Robert Hilder (D) – Summit County Attorney
Robert Hilder (Democrat)
Summit County Attorney
Question 1: What are your qualifications to run for county attorney and why do you
want to serve?
A candidate must have reasons that exceed merely wanting or needing the job. My reasons include: 20 years without a contested attorney election is 16 years too long; the county is not sufficiently well served by present legal counsel and the county attorney can be a catalyst for more efficient government and better use of resources.
The best legal counsel must be combined with broad life experience, judgment and wisdom. It is not taught in law school but in life. I have spent most of my 65 years gaining that experience. I know and love this community, and will be part of seeing that we do not squander what we have or fail to serve our entire diverse community.
I am exceptionally well qualified by education and legal experience: undergraduate and law degrees, University of Utah, both degrees earned with high honors, including Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, and Utah Law Review membership; law practice 11 years and trial judge 1995-2011. As judge, over 600 trials, decided thousands of civil and criminal motions, and sentenced thousands of convicted criminal defendants. Numerous leadership roles in court and practice. 580 mediations, 130 arbitrations, trial and litigation practice and consulting since 2011.
Question 2: The County Attorney’s office oversees both criminal and civil issues that arise in the county. Are both types of issues currently being adequately addressed?
Unfortunately, no. Every lawyer in the office, on both sides, is apparently able and dedicated. That is not the same as being eminently effective, individually and as an office. The civil side has contributed to a county history exceeding, to my knowledge, 15 years where inadequate and costly policy and legal decisions might not have happened if the legal counsel had been more considered and courageous. The office has failed to protect the county, mostly because leadership was unwilling to take control and harness the available talent as a whole.
In the criminal division, day-to-day prosecution is fundamentally sound. However, some choices between plea bargains and trial are made without appropriate consideration of victim’s rights and the need to take a stand even at the risk of an embarrassing loss. Prosecution also exhibits a tendency to achieve even worthwhile ends through intimidation and bullying of counsel and victims.
Question 3: Does the county attorney’s office have adequate resources to keep up with the growing criminal case load and are there ways to make the office more efficient?
I reviewed some past budgets online, but have no basis to judge the adequacy of current resources. I have no reason to believe the current office is wasteful, but there are alternative approaches to both prosecution and civil law that may create savings and allow resources to shift to other criminal and social initiatives that save money and lives — literally and figuratively — in the future. The present drug court, and a possible mental health court, are proven and positive options. Another possibility is provision of county paid mediators for all child custody settlement conferences with the court. Avoiding delay in child custody resolution can save young lives that might otherwise be diverted down destructive criminal paths. We can also develop alternatives to standard criminal prosecution for youth and young adults before we indelibly stamp them with records that will drastically reduce their options and hope for successful lives.
Question 4: The county recently passed several ordinances to try to control the installation of oil and gas pipelines and they were sued by the oil company. What do you think of the county’s strategy in this matter and how would you advise them to proceed?
In July, Mr. Brickey stated: "We think the ordinances are appropriate and fair and we will defend aggressively the decisions of the Summit County Council." Strong language, but not necessarily the best way to deal with a proposal in its early stages, clearly subject to substantial federal review and amendment or even denial. Tesoro sued because the county hastily passed three ordinances. The county must be heard on the pipeline issue. Ordinances may be an answer, but another lawsuit over county actions may not be the best answer. The county attorney should work with stakeholders to be part of the solution. It is too soon to decide to aggressively defend ordinances that may or may not be pre-empted by federal law or be unconstitutional. It is all too typical of a litigious attitude that completely ignores the possibilities of negotiation and agreement.
Question 5: Various parts of the county’s development code have been challenged, do you think the code is legally sound and are there ways to ensure it can be enforced?
At the detailed level, I have much to learn about the development code. It will be a priority for me. Whether the current development code is entirely sound is less important than whether it is construed and implemented with wisdom and consistency. As that occurs, flaws are revealed and amendment is part of the life of any law or regulation. Some of the more distressing history is arbitrary or capricious review and enforcement, and failure to communicate among county departments that are responsible for various aspects of enforcement. From my limited vantage point, there has been much improvement in this area. My focus will be to assure that the deputy county attorneys who advise commissions and staff do so with consistency and propose, when appropriate, pragmatic solutions.
Question 6: Please differentiate your platform from your opponent’s.
Mr. Brickey says his office is an advisor, not another member of the "kitchen staff" in county decision making. I believe attorneys can advise without meddling. I do not aspire to be another council or staff member. The county attorney and deputies will be lawyers and advisors to the council and all staff. A true lawyer is also a counselor, who brings the whole of his or her experience to bear on a problem or proposal. As a mediator, one of my main jobs is to help disputing parties understand the range of viable options available, and help avoid decisions that only lead to failure or frustration.
In the criminal arena, Mr. Brickey speaks of his "brutal honesty" as a virtue. I embrace the honesty, and reject the brutality. Mutual respect among lawyers is critical to a functioning criminal court. Lawyers, victims and their families, and defendants will always be treated with empathy, courtesy and respect in my administration.
The present county attorney appears to be satisfied with the status quo. I am not satisfied. Change is long overdue. I am not planning to make drastic changes, but changes must come if our remarkable but complex county shall flourish.
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