Case against former Summit County victim advocate allowed to proceed
A 3rd District Court judge earlier this month declined to dismiss a felony charge against a former Summit County victim advocate accused of misusing more than $5,000 in donations to the county’s victim assistance program.
Marsha Lynne Probst, who worked within the Summit County Attorney’s Office from 2006 to 2017, faces one second-degree felony count of misusing public money.
The charge stems from donations Probst received from Wasatch Womenade, a Park City nonprofit that assists women and children, between 2012 and 2017. Prosecutors with the Utah Attorney General’s Office claim she violated the law by putting the money into a private bank account and using some of it for personal purchases, according to charging documents.
In a court filing in support of a motion to dismiss, Probst’s attorney disputed prosecutors’ characterization of the donations as public money, arguing that her position did not require her to receive public money on behalf of the county and that she was not bound by an obligation to report the donations or transfer them to the county.
The defense also argued Wasatch Womenade did not intend for its donations to the victim assistance program to be controlled by Summit County and that there was no contract in place specifying the county as the recipient of the funding. Jane Morrison, chair of Wasatch Womenade, backed those claims in a signed document attached to the filing.
The filing indicated the case has taken an emotional toll on Probst, who has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
“Over the past eight months, given the publicity about this case, Defendant has already paid a severe price by just being charged. The emotional component cannot and should not be discounted or diminished — it is overwhelming,” the filing states.
Prosecutors countered that the intent of Wasatch Womenade is irrelevant to the case and that the donations were public money because they were given to Probst in her capacity as a victim advocate for the county. The prosecution in a court filing also disagreed with an assertion from the defense that the county was not harmed by Probst’s alleged actions.
“The public funds at issue here were supposed to go to the Summit County Victim Assistance Program to help victims of crime,” the prosecutors’ filing states. “Instead, the funds were, in part, used for personal purchases by the defendant and for people outside of Summit County.”
Judge Patrick Corum denied the motion to dismiss on May 2.
Gail Laser, Probst’s attorney, said in an interview that Corum did not reject the defense’s arguments in denying the motion and will likely revisit the matter during a preliminary hearing later this month.
“The fact is this case did not establish the charge under which Mrs. Probst is being prosecuted, and hopefully that can be demonstrated at the preliminary hearing,” she said, adding that Probst on many occasions provided money and other emergency items to victims out of her own pocket.
The case was moved from Summit County to Salt Lake County last summer at the request of the defense, which argued the venue change was appropriate given Probst’s former role with the Summit County Attorney’s Office.
A probe into Probst’s behavior was initiated after she resigned from her position in 2017, Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson has said. The investigation was sparked after Probst’s successor received a check from Wasatch Womenade. Olson had been unaware that the nonprofit had made donations in the past.
Olson referred the matter to the Utah Attorney General’s Office, which investigated and pursued the charge against Probst.
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Sen. Allen Christensen, one of the two men to represent Summit County in the State Senate, announced he will not seek another term after 16 years in office.