ST. GEORGE – Supporters of Brock Belnap say that when voters are informed of what the county attorney does, they see that Belnap is the best choice for county attorney in the upcoming June 24 primary.
Those supporters say that in his time as Washington County Attorney Belnap has proven himself to be a fierce but fair prosecutor, a stalwart protector of the Constitution, willing to stand up to federal overreach, a unifier of law enforcement agencies, and a strong victim’s advocate.
That experience and approach, they say, are needed now more than ever, as Washington County faces critical fights against crime and against the federal government. That is why all the county elected officials endorse Belnap for county attorney. His experience and principles are indispensable in what is the county attorney’s biggest responsibility—leading the prosecution of 3,000 criminal cases annually. His leadership in this area has won over those who fight crime daily. City police chiefs across the county — Chief Marlon Stratton of St. George City, Chief Lynn Excell of Hurricane, Chief Bob Flowers of Santa Clara/Ivins, Chief Jim Keith of Washington City, Chief Kurt Wright of Springdale, Chief Benjamin Lee of La Verkin — as well as Sheriff Cory Pulsipher, all endorse Belnap for county attorney. Many other law enforcement officers in the area are publicly endorsing Belnap as well.
For these reasons and more, say Belnap supporters, another Belnap term will provide a safer, better Washington County.
The role of the county attorney
This election for county attorney essentially serves as a job interview, where the citizens of Washington County interview the candidates for the position and decide who is most qualified for the job. It is important that the voters, as the people in the position to hire the County’s attorney, know what the position entails.
Under state law, the county attorney has two roles—to prosecute major crimes and to serve as the attorney to the county.
As a prosecutor, Belnap fights diligently for justice while working to uphold the rights of victims and the innocent. He has brought the law enforcement community together, as evidenced by his widespread support by the law enforcement community.
Belnap is a trusted advisor to the county, as evidenced by the endorsement of all three county commissioners — Commissioners Alan Gardner and Denny Drake and Commission Chairman James Eardley — as well all the other elected county officials and recent Republican nominee for county commission Seat A, Zachary Renstrom.
Where private attorneys generally have multiple clients, the county attorney’s single client is the county as a whole. This means that the county attorney must be aware of the County’s collective interests and not seek to represent any citizens or their objectives individually.
To ensure that this is the case, Utah law has made clear that the county commissioners are elected to represent the collective interests of the people. The county attorney is elected to answer to the county commission as the representatives of his client, the county. As representative of the client, the County Commission sets the policy objectives it determines will further the collective interests of the people.
The county attorney is legally required to respect those objectives and give the county commission accurate legal advice regarding its objectives. By law, the county attorney does not set policy for the county, nor may he determine what lawsuits the county may enter into of his own accord. Those responsibilities belong to the county commission under Utah law.
Respecting the voice of the people of Washington County through their elected policy makers, the county commission, Belnap has advised and counseled the county commission on how to fight back against federal encroachment, particularly when it comes to local control over lands. For example, by Belnap’s counsel and advice, Washington County has brought a massive lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management to preserve access to over four hundred back country roads in Washington County, many of which the BLM has already taken steps to close or limit access to, and others of which it has future plans to do the same.
In addition to being familiar with the role of the county attorney, voters should consider experience when hiring the County’s attorney. Law is a complex field, and experience truly matters in the legal profession.
Belnap has over 20 years of legal experience, including 17 years at the county attorney’s office, where he has gained experience keeping our communities safe in leading the prosecution of thousands of felony criminal cases and fighting the federal government on critical issues such as access to our back country roads, corralling the reach of the Endangered Species Act, and constraining the impact of various federal regulations.
Keeping communities safe
Around the same time Belnap was first hired by then County Attorney Eric Ludlow, Ryan Shaum was also hired. Shaum now serves as Belnap’s lead prosecutor and handles many of the office’s most sensitive cases. Having worked alongside Belnap for 17 years, he has come to trust Belnap’s advice.
Shaum said he values Belnap’s meaningful guidance on tough legal issues.
“With the cases that I handle, there are complexities there that I need a second opinion on, or I might need to know how to deal with a victim in a court setting in a sensitive case,” Shaum said, “I need someone who has been there and done that to help me decide how to proceed.”
The most important responsibility a county attorney has is to lead the prosecution of crime in the County.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that each criminal case is incredibly important to the people involved,” Belnap said.
Belnap knows a prosecutor’s ability to bring down the weight of government on the individual is a power that must be used carefully. He requires his prosecutors to serve justice by seeking the truth and upholding the Constitution.
“People respect Brock, and they trust in our office and believe that we will do what is in the interest of justice,” Shaum said. “They know we don’t charge because we can but because we should.”
Belnap has implemented and improved many programs aimed at combating crime and its dangerous effects by bringing law enforcement agencies together. The collaborative agencies he has helped form among law enforcement range from the Washington County Drug Task Force, a united effort across the county’s law enforcement agencies to stem the flow of drugs into communities, to organizations such as the victims advocacy group, which meets regularly to help victims through the legal process. Other collaborative projects Belnap has been instrumental in creating include the Washington County Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and the new Veterans Court.
Shaum said one of Belnap’s best accomplishments was to put the focus on victims and helping them through the legal process — making sure they have justice done in their cases and have their voice heard.
It is just one example of how Belnap has earned this community’s respect.
“He has the trust of the prosecutors, the law enforcement community, and the people,” Shaum said.
Safeguarding local control: Fighting federal overreach
Washington County is in the thick of two of its long-term fights against the federal government, and losing Belnap as county attorney at this time would severely harm the county’s chances to succeed in those fights—the battle to stop the BLM’s excessive attempts to cut off public access to country roads and the contest over the desert tortoise preserve.
These are fights for which Belnap and his staff have long prepared.
“We’re in the middle of critical legal battles,” Belnap said, “and now is not the time to bring in a new attorney who would have to be brought up to speed.”
Under Belnap’s leadership, his office has prepared for the fight to stop BLM from cutting off public access to country roads, in the field referred to as RS-2477 roads, for the last decade, culminating in a massive lawsuit filed two years ago to establish county ownership of hundreds of miles of road in over 400 back country public rights-of-way. Although the law recognizes county ownership of these roads, the federal government has taken the position that the only way to establish ownership of and right to access these roads is to litigate title to the roads in court.
In the decade-long preparation for this battle, Belnap and his team have been identifying and obtaining witnesses and other important evidence that will be decisive in permanently establishing the county’s ownership and the public’s right to access these roads. Just last year, Washington County led the other counties who have also joined suit in completing the first round of depositions to preserve the testimony of local citizens as to the existence and use of these roads.
Another long-term battle the county is in the middle of is the fight to limit the invasive reach of the Endangered Species Act and its devastating impacts on economic growth and development. The current chapter in this saga is the expiration of the 20-year development permit obtained eighteen years ago in relation to the listed desert tortoise. Washington County’s permit allowing development throughout the county in spite of the desert tortoise’s listing as a threatened species expires in 2016. Belnap is already working on renewing the permit so that economic growth and development can continue, and preventing the federal government from seizing more land for the desert tortoise.
“Brock’s leadership is critical in Washington County’s battle against federal overreach,” said Eric Clarke, the lead civil deputy county attorney. “Not only do our county commissioners and county attorneys from across the state regularly seek his advice, but as his lead civil attorney I am in his office talking through complex issues almost every day. He is also a hands-on leader. For example, when we were drafting the 1,000 page complaint for our back-country roads lawsuit against the federal government, Brock made sure that he personally completed a significant amount of the work reviewing evidence and writing the complaint.”
Belnap graduated in the top 10 percent from BYU Law School and landed a job at a top Salt Lake City law firm, but after five years there, Belnap felt the pull of the red hills of his home town.
Belnap liked the idea of being a prosecutor, and some law school friends recommended it to him as a means of gaining courtroom experience, so Belnap applied for and was hired to work as a deputy county attorney under then County Attorney Eric Ludlow.
Initially, Belnap was assigned to prosecute misdemeanors and white collar crime and handled the office’s civil work load. When Judge Ludlow was appointed to the bench, the County Commission chose to appoint Belnap as acting County Attorney. Since that time, he has led the prosecution of thousands of felony criminal cases, including the case that put Warren Jeffs behind bars.
Belnap’s many years of experience in working both civil cases in the private and public sector, and criminal cases, make him uniquely qualified to be the County Attorney. His office employs 11 criminal attorneys and two civil attorneys. His deputies rely heavily on his expertise, regardless of whether they are prosecuting a criminal case or working on a civil one.
“For a community that prides itself on being safe,” Shaum said, “I think we need someone at the top who started at the bottom, went through that learning curve and reached the top. You really need to have someone in there who has had some level of exposure to these issues.”
Throughout his time as county attorney, and during this campaign, Belnap has reflected on the principles that have guided his everyday work as county attorney. He said these principles include the following:
- Prosecutors have the unique power to bring the weight of government down upon individual citizens. That power must be exercised with care and integrity. Prosecutors do justice by seeking the truth and upholding the Constitution.
- We must resist federal intrusion and insist on local control. The people who live, work, and depend on our lands know the value of those lands far better than bureaucrats writing regulation in D.C. My team and I are prepared and ready to continue this fight.
- The checks and balances contemplated by the founding fathers are out of whack in the federal government. Maintaining separation of powers is critical and I will honor the duties of my office by respecting the authority and responsibilities of the county commissioners and other elected officials. I will give honest, accurate legal counsel to our elected policy makers. I will not waste taxpayer resources.
- The Constitution is what has allowed this nation to flourish and prosper. I pledge to serve the County and its people by acting in a lawful manner that respects the legal system set forth in the Constitution.
Anyone familiar with Belnap’s time as county attorney knows that these principles have guided his work in that position.
“I treasure our county,” Belnap said, “and I want to preserve what’s good about our county for my children and all our children.”
A D V E R T O R I A L
This report is produced and paid for by the Brock Belnap Re-election Campaign
- All reports related to Election 2014
- Dates, locations for early primary voting
- Brock Belnap holds neighborhood meetings, county attorney primary
- Nathan Caplin invites voters to discuss ideas; county attorney primary
- Caplin focuses on constitutional knowledge, Belnap touts experience
- New district court judge takes the bench
- Dixie Republican Forum hosts county attorney debate
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.