RIGBY — Incumbent Jefferson County Prosecutor Paul Butikofer has a challenger in the May Republican primary.
Rigby resident Mark Taylor is a former federal prosecutor. He tells EastIdahoNews.com he decided to run for the position after several county leaders told him some needs were not being met by the current prosecutor.
“They asked me to run, and I told them no initially,” Taylor says. “I gave it some thought and realized my experience being a prosecutor for the federal government gave me an opportunity to bless and serve the community I lived in, and I decided to do it.”
Jefferson County is one of the fastest-growing counties in Idaho, he says, and there is a huge need for civil law enforcement and civil legal advice for Planning and Zoning, Road and Bridge, and other departments.
“One of our county’s best criminal prosecutors is filling the civil law void by spending less time prosecuting crime and more time dealing with county departments on civil matters, but that is not his expertise. It is not an efficient use of the county’s legal resources,” Taylor says.
There is only one part-time civil attorney in Jefferson County, Taylor says, and Taylor’s expertise in civil matters — as his current job is a full-time civil attorney in Rexburg — would eliminate the need for the part-time position and allow the remaining two attorneys to focus on their criminal expertise.
Butikofer says the county commissioners authorized bringing on a new criminal deputy when he took office to keep up with the demands of a growing population, he says, and removing these attorneys from their positions would create problems and massive workloads. He says his legal team provides a “solid return on investment” to taxpayers.
Another issue Taylor says he’s heard from others in the community is that Butikofer has a pattern of not prosecuting felonies.
“Many in local law enforcement feel their hard work gathering evidence of felony crimes is in vain because the prosecuting attorney so frequently declines to charge the crime as a felony. Instead, he charges it as a misdemeanor. He is hard on sex abuse cases, but those are not the only felonies that need to be prosecuted,” says Taylor.
Taylor says it is the judge’s job to decide the case, and the prosecutor’s job is to bring them. If there is a problem with the evidence that law enforcement has gathered, let them hear it from the judge, he says.
“As a prosecuting attorney, I would then work with law enforcement to figure out what we need to do differently. This is not what is happening now, and it has hurt the morale of local law enforcement,” says Taylor.
Butikofer says his proudest achievement over the last four years is the conviction of Jesus Armenta, who was found guilty last fall of raping a 9-year-old girl. When he does decline to prosecute a case, Butikofer says he is acting in accordance with the law.
“Under U.S. and Idaho law, probable cause must be based on admissible evidence. If I review a case and know that a judge will exclude the evidence because the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated, I am ethically prohibited from bringing that charge,” he says. “I cannot commit an ethical violation at the expense of a person’s constitutional rights to save my relationship with a law enforcement officer. I am surprised by any position to the contrary.”
Taylor attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and graduated from the Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Virginia. He was hired straight out of law school to investigate and prosecute civil antitrust cases for the U.S. government.
He resigned in 2017 and moved to Rigby with his wife, Elodie, and their four children. He taught seminary at Rigby High School for a year before starting his current position as an attorney at Rigby, Andrus, & Rigby Law Office in Rexburg.
He says he’s ready to go to work to serve the people of Jefferson County.
“It’s really disturbing when your government officials can’t get along with each other, and they’re not working well together. It doesn’t have to be that way,” he says.
The primary will be held May 19. The general election is Nov. 3.