Caplin focuses on constitutional knowledge, Belnap touts experience

ST GEORGE – Does knowledge trump experience? This is a question that has arisen in the race for Republican nominee for Washington County Attorney.

With the June 24 primaries just over three weeks away, challenger Nathan Caplin seeks to unseat incumbent Brock Belnap. Caplin touts his knowledge of constitutional and civil law as a needed asset for the county as it faces potential confrontations with the federal government. He has a background in civil litigation and is also the city prosecutor for Hildale, where he handles a myriad of cases, albeit on the misdemeanor-level.

Supporters of Belnap are quick to point out Caplin has yet to prosecute a felony-level case in his professional career. This inexperience, they claim, will not serve the county well.

“When you are dealing with thousands of felonies a year, the last thing you want is inexperience. Brock has the experience needed to run this county’s attorney office,” said Marshall McConkie, city prosecutor for both LaVerkin and Springdale, as a part of his endorsement on Belnap’s campaign website.

In response to his critics on the matter, Caplin said:

I’ve passed two bar exams, completed a judicial clerkship as an attorney, and served as the city prosecutor during high-stakes litigation in one of Utah’s most culturally unique areas, which (as an outsider) requires not only expertise in prosecution, but also a unique understanding of constitutional law, negotiation skills and cultural awareness. I teach history at Dixie State University, a position I love. I’m a civil litigation attorney at one of the best law firms in southern Utah.

Caplin also said another key to his success is extensive graduate education, which includes not only a doctorate in law, but a master’s degree in U.S. history. In his scholarly writing, he has concentrated on civil rights and constitutional law.

“When it comes to constitutional law and civil rights law, I believe many may concede that the challenger in this race has the upper hand,” Caplin said.

The Dixie Republican Forum recently gave Caplin its endorsement. The Forum is unaffiliated with the Republican Party which does not endorse candidates until after the primary. Dixie Republican Forum currently has about 50-plus dues-paying members, Larry Meyers, one of its founders, said, with an average of 25-30 of those attending the forum luncheons. The vote for endorsement came by 2/3 vote of its dues-paying members present at a May meeting.

“Though both candidates are well-qualified, many of our members were impressed with Caplin’s platform of returning to Constitutional principles and being prepared to oppose federal overreach, in order to protect local government authority and individual rights,” Dixie Republican Forum Chairman James Stasinos said.  “These are core values of our organization.”

Travis Christiansen, a partner at Boyack Christiansen & Chambers PLLC, a full service law firm, was nonspecific on who he favors.

“I think Brock has done a good job generally, Christiansen said of Belnap. “He does handle a lot of the high profile cases, but he doesn’t seem to be in the trenches with his staff attorneys. Caplin’s relative inexperience may make it hard for him in the office.”

Though the topic of his “relative experience” has been an issue brought up in previous debates, it hasn’t stopped area mayors from supporting Caplin, according to his campaign website. Among his supporters are St. George Mayor Jon Pike and Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson.

Caplin knows business, he knows law, and he knows the Constitution,” Neilson said. “He is the best candidate to fight crime, defend the constitution, listen to citizens, and defend traditional values. I have full confidence that Caplin is the most qualified candidate for county attorney.”

Conversely, Belnap is supported by members of county and municipal law enforcement. Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said he has endorsed Belnap. St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton has also endorsed Belnap, according to Belnap’s campaign website.

“I am fighting hard to win the vote of every citizen in Washington County,” Belnap said. “The only endorsement that matters is the endorsement of the voters on June 24.”

Belnap has 15 years experience with Washington County Attorney’s Office, and worked under Washington County Attorney Eric Ludlow before he was appointed as a Fifth District Court judge. While under Ludlow, Belnap handled civil and fraud cases, as well as other types of criminal cases.

Of his own experience before becoming Washington County Attorney, Belnap said:

My specialty was white collar because Ludlow thought fraud and civil were similar. I prosecuted embezzlement, counterfeiting, securities fraud, and exploitation of vulnerable adults cases. I worked on the Martinez aggravated homicide and did all the briefing. I prosecuted child sex abuse and an automobile homicide involving an unborn child. For a time, I handled a full prosecutor’s case load including drug cases, etc., when we lost (two) deputies.

As to the county attorney’s job description, Belnap said it is to prosecute crimes and make sure criminals do not go unpunished.

I have 15 years on the front lines in the fight against crime in Washington County, and we are winning,” Belnap said. “Our team prosecutes over 3,000 cases a year, ranging from misdemeanors to capital murders. We fight hard – but we fight fair. We hold criminals accountable, and we uphold victims’ rights.”

Belnap also said he feels the county attorney’s most important constitutional duty is to be the ultimate protector of each citizen’s liberty.

“The most dangerous power government has is the power to take away an individual’s personal freedom,” he said. “The guilty should be prosecuted to the fullest extent, but the innocent must be protected.”

The county is also currently in an important legal battle to preserve people’s access to public lands, and to protect people’s constitutional rights, Belnap said. Right now Washington County is involved in suing the Bureau of Land Management for local control of the back-country roads.

“I am also fighting to protect the county from the endangered species act and from overreaching federal regulations. Those are critical legal battles we are fighting right now, and experience does matter,” Belnap said.

“While I can’t comment on Nathan Caplin, having not worked with him,” Capt. Kyle Whitehead, who leads the Washington County Drug Task Force, said, “the Task Force has had a good working relationship with Brock Belnap and his team. We have always had good rapport and found him to be impartial and knowledgeable.”

Belnap helped create the Washington County Drug Task Force as a way to better combat narcotics within the county.

The Mayors Veteran Council will be hosting a meet and great with both Belnap and Caplin on June 11 at 5 p.m. The event will be held at the St George Vet Center at 1664 S Dixie Drive in St George.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and Assistant Editor Mori Kessler contributed to this story.

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20 Comments

  • Rick May 30, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Since Belnap didn’t recuse his office from the former LT Adams drunk driving case and the lack of filing child endangerment charges shows that he isn’t impartial. Have no clue about Caplin, let’s get two different candidates.

    • Mori Kessler Mori Kessler May 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

      The Washington County Attorney’s Office actually excused itself from the case on early due to potential conflicts. The attorney currently prosecuting the case is attached to the City of St. George.

      • Rick May 30, 2014 at 10:51 am

        That’s not a good thing! The city attorney’s office has got some major issues of it’s own. It should have been handled out of the county!!

  • Steve Haluska May 30, 2014 at 8:46 am

    To me the choice is obvious……..I want someone with experience in that position. Maybe one day Caplin will have it but not now

  • Legal Mind May 30, 2014 at 11:08 am

    Really Steve Haluska? You really want your money to go to a guy who coasts… He has been coasting since he took office we pay him to sit in an office and let Brian Filter do all the hard work. No thank you!

  • Fred May 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    From what I have been reading about the two candidates Caplin has my vote. The Constitution comes first. VOTE CAPLIN.

    • Bender May 31, 2014 at 9:24 am

      A self proclaimed constitutional law scholar with little relevant experience is the best guy for the job? He will be needing his fundamentalist interpretation of the constitution for what part of his job? Prosecuting drug dealers and white collar scammers?
      .
      You Tea Party Neanderthals salivate anytime someone wraps them self in the flag and pontificates about the founding fathers.

  • Trish Sheffield May 30, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Mr. Belnap’s experience at this juncture in our county’s development is crucial to continued protection and prosecution of victims and perpetrators. His depth of understanding of the law, the constitution, and working with diverse populations has been demonstrated in his tenure at the County Attorney’s Office. He leads well. He is dedicated, committed and intelligent and works tirelessly for we, the people.

  • Mike Beers May 30, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    I want to know why oh why the County Attorney is a partisan office. They are to uphold the law and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law without prejudice. Let’s stop the ridiculous Republican/Democrat shenanigans when ideology shouldn’t matter!!! Same goes for Sheriff, Auditor and Treasurer. Like a Republican can count better than a Democrat, really?

  • Sigmund May 30, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    I was disappointed with Belnap last December when he seemed far too anxious to go along with a federal judge’s order against Utah’s marriage amendment BEFORE Utah had finished making its requests for a stay of that order.

    There were good reasons to wait until the following week, like some other counties did. For example, the judge did not overrule Utah’s law making it illegal for a county clerk to issue marriage licenses to anyone except a man and a woman.

    • Really? May 30, 2014 at 8:57 pm

      I guess it is easy to sit on the sideline and say he should have don’t this, and should have done that. Here is where his experience comes into play. When a Government agency has a standing ruling from a court, they should not let their personal bias get in the way of doing what the court orders. If a Government agency (Washington County) denied a constitutional right on the basis or personal belief, what happens? It puts the county in a position where their could be massive civil liability for violation of those rights. There are lawyers lined up around the block wanting to take those cases. If you want somebody who acts on emotion, so be it, but get prepared to cut a check for violation of somebody’s constitutional rights. Will that happen? Maybe not but when million’s of your tax dollars are on the line defending civil liability, wouldn’t you like to play it safe? Once again, the view is good from the cheap seats, but when your making the decisions it is a whole different story.

  • Brian Filter May 30, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    In reply to “Legal Mind”‘s comment that Brock Belnap is “coasting” and I “do all the hard work”. I work hard, I deal with many difficult cases, but let me tell you, so does Brock Belnap. Brock is there in the office, every day, working hard, handling all sorts of matters. One of those many tasks is working with me on many of those difficult cases, researching and briefing issues, developing strategies, and being ultimately responsible for deciding critical issues in the prosecution such as whether or not to seek the ultimate penalty, death, in more than one case we have and are handling.
    Brock is a dedicated, hard working, intelligent and experienced.
    I appreciate the accolade but it is an unfair and inaccurate statement of Brock’s essential role in our office.

  • Voting for Belnap May 31, 2014 at 10:36 am

    Sigmund thinks Belnap was “anxious” to obey a federal judge’s order? “Anxious” to avoid civil liability for Washington County.? Yes. “Anxious” to avoid the appearance of animus that may yet be the deciding factor in whether the Kitchen v. Herbert cimplainants are found to respresent a protected class? Yes. (The State goofed up by not asking for a stay concurrent to judgement. Within days, every county in the State was forced to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.) Was Brock “anxious” to avoid putting Washington County on the map as a national laughingstock for refusing to follow the rule if law, which is what happened to Utah County? Yes. Was he anxious to avoid potentially severe economic repurcussions to our fragile, tourist-based economy like those Arizona continues to suffer? Yes. Was he anxious to follow the rule of law, outlined in the very Constitution Fred wants to put first? Yes. If “Constitution first” is code-speak for disobeying legally issued orders and opting out of the orderly legal process outlined in the Constitution, then count me out. Brock does put the Constitution first — he protects the rights of all citizens: victims and even perpetrators — every day. But “Return to the Constitution” is insulting. Brock has never abandoned his committment to the Constitution and the rule of law. While his opponent wants to grandstand and waste our limited County resources making a name for himself fighting the federal goverment, Belnap already has and will continue to fight overreach — at the direction of the County Commissioners. Brock will also run an efficient office of talented, hard-working attorneys and staff; he maintain excellent relationships with law enforcements; and he’ll do that within the statutory limitations of the County Attorney’s office and without using the position to further his own political ambition. There’s really no question who the better candidate is– unless you’re more focused on Brock opponent’s family history, which links him to every good old boy relation in the county.

    • benlwilson June 5, 2014 at 9:37 am

      I am not so sure your comment is entirely accurate. Neither the AG nor the Governor asked counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday or Saturday. At the same time Brock told the county to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday afternoon, the AG’s office was working on motion to stay. Brock jumped the gun. It is a flat out lie for Brock or anyone else to say that he was told by the AG to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples when he did. As conservative republican Brock as the County Attorney should fight to protect conservative values. Traditional marriage between a man and a woman is core conservative value. Why in the world did Brock, on his own initiative, give the instruction to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as he did? His actions were completely reactionary. It seems that he was caught off guard, so he acted out of fear. He should have stood up and acted on his principles.

      • Voting for Belnap June 5, 2014 at 11:51 pm

        Politics and personal belief shouldn’t enter into the county attorney’s decisions. He is charged with making professional, unbiased advice and guidance. “On his own initiative” is more than a bit misleading. The county clerk asked, Brock read and correctly interpreted the judge’s order, and offered his advice, as was his statutory responsibility. Based on Judge Shelby’s and then the 10th Circuit’s multiple denials of motions to stay, and statements from the Governor and the acting Attorney General in the following days, it turns out his advice was the correct course of action. But if you believe that following the rule of law in Washington County and issuing two marriage licenses on Friday instead of on Monday was a terminal error that negates 11 years of exemplary work, that’s your choice. However, I’d like to thank you for being honest enough to openly debate the real issue in this primary election. It’s not the Constitution, it’s not federal land policy, it’s not the desert tortoise. It’s same-sex marriage. And since that matter will be decided by the Supreme Court, some local folks have decided to take out their anger, dismay, and even fear on an intelligent public servant who followed the orderly process of law. If you think that anyone else wouldn’t have ended up giving the same advice, then you’re not being realistic, because that’s just what happened across the state. It turned out that no elected or appointed official in Utah was willing to defy the order for long. What action would suffice for you? Should Brock have waited until Monday to answer the clerk’s request for legal advice? Tuesday? Should he have given politically expedient but incorrect legal advice? Maybe you think his job was to lie down in front of the door to the clerk’s office to impede entry to marriage license applicants. I don’t believe you really want Washington County’s economy and reputation to suffer because of such a decision. I hope you don’t believe that the order didn’t apply to Washington County as another poster contends. I’m oretty sure you don’t want the actions of Washington County to contribute to the argument that the original statute and amendment were based on animus. I understand your feelings. It’s human nature to want to blame someone when a situation feels out of our control. The term scapegoat comes from Leviticus 16:9: “And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering.” You’d be better off decrying the ineptitude of the AG’s office than blaming Brock Belnap, but that wouldn’t be as emotionally satisfying. Sacrificing experience and proven success to assuage those feelings would be unfortunate, but I am truly grateful to you for being willing to bring out the real issue in this election and not hide behind diversionary pro-Constitution rhetoric, even though I wish elections were decided on facts and logic and reasoned thought, not feelings.

  • Festus May 31, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Vote for Pedro!!!

  • NewsGuru June 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    The concerns about Washington County getting sued if it did not “comply” with Judge Shelby’s December 20th order striking down Utah’s marriage law are overblown. Any such suits would have been put on hold once a stay was issued. And there would not have been grounds for large monetary damages in a law suit such as that.

    Utah County did not start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until nearly a week later, on December 26th. Washington County could have done the same or waited until the Supreme Court issued the stay on January 6th.

    There were several good reasons to wait: 1) Shelby’s decision was issued on a Friday afternoon and Washington County could have taken advantage of the weekend to study the decision and consider all options, 2) Washington County was not a party to the suit and thus not directly under Shelby’s jurisdiction, and 3) the Utah AG’s office immediately filed an appeal and sought a stay from the 10th Circuit and later from the Supreme Court.

    I am disappointed that Belnap immediately gave the green light to our County Clerk’s office to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. He should have waited and sought other alternatives.

    • Bender June 1, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      “Utah County did not start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until nearly a week later,”
      .
      Right, because acting loopier than the pinchy mouthed old church ladies running the Republican Party in Utah County should be our goal.

  • Voting for Belnap June 4, 2014 at 5:19 am

    NewsGuru, So you wanted Washington County, and Washington County alone, to defy the federal judge’s order until the Supreme Court’s stay 17 days later? Even though the Governor and the acting Attorney General advised compiiance? Great idea since such an action that action could be used as evidence of animus. If the plaintiffs can show that the ban on same-sex marriage was based on animus (a strong feeling of dislike or hatred), sexual orientation may be determined to be a protected class (an issue not addressed in the Utah ruling), which would have all kinds of results that will upset you as much or more as allowing two couples to get married on a Friday afternoon instead of on Monday morning. You want to vote out one of the best county attorneys in the state, someone unanimously supported by law enforcement and every employee in his office, over two couples out of the approximately 1,300 who married before the stay was issued? To put it politely, that’s shortsighted. The point is that the legality (although certainly not the morality) of same-sex marriage is going to be decided by the Supreme Court, if not on Kitchen v. Herbert then on a case from another state. Putting Washington County on the national stage of this issue is useless and foolhardy. Do you have any clue what drives our economy? Washington County doesn’t have the luxury of stomping its feet and holding its breath. A tourist or recreation boycot would be devastating. Don’t believe it could happen? Look at what’s happened in Arizona. Utah County doesn’t have that concern because their economy is different and more diversified, although the actions of that county could end up hurting Utah’s case in the long run as evidence if animus. Advocating contemptuous action of a federal judge’s order? That’s not how I want my elected officials acting. There’s a process. It’s called an appeal. Belnap supports the state in its appeal (and I venture that if he’d been in charge of Utah’s case a motion to stay the judgement pending appeal would have been filed in a timely manner, thus avoiding what has turned into an ugly mess caused solely by the Utah Attorny General’s office’s failure to file such a motion prior to judgment). I don’t pick and choose which parts of the Constitution to obey, and neither does Belnap, even when he knows making the right and lawful decision might be unpopular. Brock went against his personal feelings, and those of others in our area, because he had to. He based his decision on the LAW, not feelings, which is what I want my County Attorney to do. Sometimes you’re between a rock and a hard place, but respecting the rule of law is a huge part of putting the “Constitution first.” Along with establishing individual freedoms, the Constitution delineates an orderly system for deciding, debating, and protecting those rights. Kitchen v. Herbert is going through that process now. By your logic, if SCOTUS ends up ruling in favor of Kitchen, et al., Washington County should defy the Supreme Court ruling. Oh goodie, I can see it now: You and Belnap’s opponent, defying National Guard troops as they escort same-sex couples up the steps to the Washington County Clerk’s office. That will do wonders for our area as a tourist and retirement destination. Do you know how much money recreation and events generate in WashCo every year? But besides that, such unlawful behavior would have almost certainly hurt the cause in the end, unless you want to create a protected class. I understand some of us have strong feelings about same-sex marriage, but demanding unlawful behavior from elected officials? Not smart. Try “Returning to the Constitution” by respecting it. All of it, not just the parts that you like.

  • Legal Eagle June 10, 2014 at 5:46 am

    Nate Caplin is the right man for Washington County attorney. He has deep roots in southern Utah, he has a terrific understanding of the Constitution, and he has great experience, including as a judicial clerk, civil litigator, adjunct professor, and prosecutor for Hildale City. It’s time for someone with a fresh perspective and great ideas for moving Washington County forward.

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