Bailey Smith and Alex Sosa. | Courtesy Bailey Smith and Alex Sosa
DRIGGS — Republican Bailey Smith and Democrat Alex Sosa are going head-to-head in the Teton County prosecuting attorney race for this year’s general election.
Smith is currently the chief deputy prosecuting attorney for Teton County, and Sosa works as a public defender in Idaho Falls. Both are looking to take over current Teton County prosecuting attorney Billie Siddoway’s position.
Earlier this year, Siddoway decided not to run for reelection.
To learn more about the candidate’s platform, EastIdahoNews.com sent the same eight questions to each candidate. Their unedited responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less.
Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.
Smith: I grew up in Marietta, a small town in rural Ohio. I don’t have any siblings, but I’m very close with my extended family. As early as middle-school age, I was determined to get the best education. When I was 13, I obtained a scholarship to Culver Girls Academy, a boarding school in Indiana. I learned to speak Spanish fluently and developed an interest in public law.
After Culver, I obtained a scholarship to the University of Richmond. I studied International Political Science, Spanish and Italian. During my junior year, I studied abroad at an Italian university where I studied Italian linguistics and translation. In my spare time, I volunteered as an interpreter at a health clinic in a poor Hispanic neighborhood.
After college, I attended George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC. There, I studied criminal law and procedure and was a member of the International Law in Domestic Courts Journal. I competed nationally in mock trial and alternative dispute resolution competitions and won a number of awards. I also worked for the honorable Emmet G. Sullivan, a federal judge on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and volunteered at local legal aid clinics.
After law school, I practiced law for six years at prominent firms in NYC. I provided pro-bono representation to numerous criminal defendants, counseled crime victims in a local diversion program and worked with Lawyers Without Borders in Africa training prosecutors and judges on how to handle human trafficking cases.
Sosa: I’m from a small coal mining town in eastern Kentucky, where I was taught to always help those in need. I chose to attend the University of Idaho College of Law to stick to my rural roots, and to make my way out west for the recreation opportunities and the unrivaled lifestyle. When I began as a student at the U of I, I vowed to give back to the people of this state. Throughout my time learning the laws of Idaho, I made sure I was giving back to Idahoans through volunteering at a legal aid clinic and working at an environmental nonprofit. In seeing this drive for service to Idahoans, a central Idaho Judge tapped me early to begin clerking for him.
During school, I met my fifth-generation Idahoan wife, Ashley. When deciding where we wanted to put down roots, we landed on Teton Valley. I commute every day to Idaho Falls to represent Idahoans who cannot afford legal counsel as a public defender. I’ve advocated for clients in over four hundred hearings in 2020 alone. Teton County attorneys witnessed first-hand my experience and drive for service and recommended I represent Teton County as prosecuting attorney.
Outside of being an attorney, I love volunteering to better local outdoor recreation. I’m a volunteer with the trail building nonprofit Teton Valley Trails and Pathways and a volunteer ski patroller at Grand Targhee Resort. I’m also happy to say that my wife and I are expecting our first child in February.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?
Sosa: While working for a Judge in central Idaho, we handled a civil case that involved a hunting incident with a local father and son. The son took an elk in a private fenced-in hunting area. The private hunting ranch was in a financial position to hire legal counsel, while the local could not afford counsel to represent him or explain the process to him. So the ranch filed suit, alleging that it had lost an elk, and therefore it had lost a customer who would have paid over ten thousand dollars for a hunting vacation.
Together, the Judge and I discussed what was fair and just—was it fair to hold this local with little means financially accountable to this private ranch? Was it fair to let this father and son take an elk that was on private hunting land? With some diligent research of 120-year-old case law, I found that the law in this case split the difference, and protected the rights of both parties without giving one a windfall. I’m proud that we were able to appease both sides without draining the locals of their modest savings or neglecting the ranch’s right to private land.
I am proud to have built a career that serves the people of Idaho. Experiences like this showed me that my passion lies in public service. Every day that I represent underserved and indigent Idahoans, I feel proud to have chosen this path.
Smith: In a nutshell, I’m proud I built a successful career in one of the most demanding legal markets in the world, but I’m also proud I chose to leave it behind to live where I love and give back to the community. In law school, I developed a passion for criminal law. Although I had long loved Teton Valley and would have loved nothing more than to move here immediately, I knew that to become the best lawyer I could, I needed to learn from the best.
I put my personal interests on the back burner, and applied to top law firms in New York City. I was offered an associate position, and I took it. For the next six years, I worked 80-100 hour weeks and lived in a concrete jungle, but I had the opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant lawyers in the country. I worked on U.S. Department of Justice matters involving allegations ranging from bribery and accounting fraud to violent street crime. I honed my trial techniques and litigation strategy, and earned a reputation as a skilled criminal litigator. While I’m proud of this and I could’ve chosen a prosperous career in NYC, I’m equally proud I chose to move to Teton Valley and work in the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. I’m proud to use my knowledge and experience to give back to the community I love, and I hope to continue this as the next Teton County prosecuting attorney.
Why are you a member of the Republican/Democrat/Independent/Other party?
Briefly explain your political platform.
Smith: I am running on the Republican ticket this November, but I am not a politician. The role of prosecuting attorney is not political, and my personal political views will not (and should not) have any impact on how I run the office. The role of the prosecuting attorney is to prosecute crimes committed within the county, defend the county when we’re sued, represent the county in juvenile and mental commitment matters and ensure that county officials have the legal advice they need to do their jobs. Each of these tasks calls for an impartial interpretation and application of our laws, as they exist. The role is not to make laws or policies, change them, or urge county officials to pursue any particular course of action or agenda. It is to provide decision-makers with the legal information they need, and then step back and allow them to make decisions for their constituents, based on all the relevant information. If elected prosecuting attorney, I will do just that.
Sosa: An Idaho Democrat is a different breed of Democrat. Idaho Democrats own guns and are hunters, sportsmen, fishermen, and the like. We know we are in the minority in Idaho, but we stand by our values. I am proud to call myself an Idaho Democrat.
I plan to guide this county impartially and present all legal options, while maintaining my values. I believe in protecting victims’ rights, leading with equity and fairness in the face of mental health and addiction, and working on an even plane with the sheriff’s office in a way that best serves the community. I believe democratic values serve our community by being more moderate and encouraging leaders to critically think about the entirety of the situation, not just what’s fiscally convenient or what’s tough on crime. I believe these are the values that will best serve our county.
What are the greatest challenges facing your county?
Sosa: Our community has made their concerns clear: The criminal justice system isn’t accessible unless you’re a defendant. I firmly believe if you are a victim, you should not be told to hire your own attorney, to represent your own interest, or to make sure substantive deadlines are met. These are the responsibilities of the prosecutor’s office and should not be off loaded on to victims with no legal background.
The Idaho Constitution directly calls for victims’ voices to be heard and states that every victim should be able to access the prosecuting attorney. If you are a community member who loses a loved one, you should not have to hear through the Teton Valley News that the prosecutor’s office is undercharging or not filing charges at all, thereby not holding an individual fully accountable. We as a community deserve to know how justice is dealt out in our valley. I will talk about and publish case dispositions so the community knows why a case was dismissed, ended in a plea agreement or restorative justice, or if there was a straight conviction. If a case has a victim, I will take the time to listen and directly inform them on the way I will handle their case.
Smith: Teton County faces a number of challenges in 2020. In the criminal realm, the valley has witnessed an increase in violent crime, distribution and use of hard drugs such as methamphetamine, heroine and cocaine, and a frightening increase in sex crimes and domestic abuse.
As on the national level, there is mistrust of law enforcement, and many citizens yearn for more transparency in our criminal justice system. Teton County has limited financial resources, and we have not always made the most of our tax dollars.
Finally, the valley is plagued by significant bitterness and mistrust between the political left and right, which has led to a breakdown in cooperation within county government. I am not a politician, and I will not make idealistic promises that cannot be kept. But if elected prosecuting attorney, I promise that I will work tirelessly to address each of these issues. I will zealously prosecute violent crime and work with the Sheriff’s Office to investigate and prosecute the distribution of narcotics in our community.
I will improve support for crime victims, and increase transparency of our criminal justice system by publishing case statistics. I will take an active role in training our sheriff’s deputies on the limits of searches and seizures and help them develop policies and procedures to safeguard individuals’ rights. I will optimize the efficiency of my office to make the most of taxpayer dollars, and I will encourage bipartisan cooperation within county government.
How is your party’s ideology better suited to dealing with these unique challenges than those of your competitor?
Smith: As I’ve repeatedly stated to individuals on both sides of the aisle, the role of prosecuting attorney is not a political one, and my personal political views will not (and should not) have any impact on how I run the office. I firmly believe that I will be a better prosecuting attorney than my competitor, but it’s because I have practiced law three times as long as he has, and I have a proven track record of success.
Since moving to Teton County, I have worked as the chief deputy prosecuting attorney. I understand the strengths and weaknesses of the criminal justice system in the county, I have demonstrated a firm command of Idaho law and I am familiar with the practical aspects of prosecuting cases here. Throughout my career, I have taken multiple cases to trial, and won every case. I have years of experience managing teams of attorneys and staff, and I know how to optimize efficiency, and make the most of a limited budget. I have also grappled with the logistical and legal obstacles to increasing transparency in a criminal justice system, and I have realistic and achievable plans in this regard. I look forward to using all my knowledge and experience to improve the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and serve the people of Teton County.
Sosa: We must elect leaders who prioritize transparency within the community in order to overcome this unique challenge. Under my values, students should never feel targeted, law enforcement misconduct should never go unchecked and victims should never feel left to fend for themselves.
I believe it is the responsibility of the county prosecuting attorney to recognize and eradicate inequalities and biases in our system. I believe victims hold certain rights in this state that the prosecutor must ensure. And I believe the youth of our valley should be protected and educated. Because I have found that these values, to represent all community members with equity and compassion, align with the Democratic Party, I believe it’s time our county elects a Democrat into office.
By upholding more human-centric values, we don’t just limit ourselves to saving money and being tough on crime. Rather, we are able to think more critically and seek a much broader solution to an issue. For example, I would shift the prosecutor’s statutory ability to recover funds in drug cases to help pay for steady mental health and drug therapists in the valley. These are the sorts of solutions my democratic values help me pursue.
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?
Sosa: The answer is simple: fairly and justly. Though this race is political, the office is not. We recognize that in our state that judges are the ultimate stewards of justice. It’s my view that the gatekeeper of justice, the prosecuting attorney, should similarly represent all.
I would represent all community members equally, by tracking and publishing case demographics so the community knows exactly how justice is dealt in Teton County. In a county as small as this one, we should be able to talk directly to elected officials to hold them accountable on a daily basis. As such, I would ensure the Prosecutor’s Office is accessible to the public, so community members can directly comment on how justice looks in our county. Additionally, I would bring back civil code enforcement, and make sure that all constituent voices are heard and their complaints are objectively enforced to the letter of our laws.
Smith: As I’ve said before, the role of prosecuting attorney is not to advocate for a political agenda, and it certainly is not to favor certain individuals over others. As prosecuting attorney, I will enforce the law fairly and impartially. I will provide county leaders with thorough and accurate legal counsel, and then step back to allow them to make decisions, without attempting to influence the outcome. I will demonstrate through both my actions and inactions that I have no political bias, and I will earn the trust of individuals on both sides of the aisle. I will also strive to heal some of the mistrust that exists between individuals of opposing parties in our county government by consistently listening to the views of each side and encouraging cooperation for the common good.
What trait, attribute, or experience do you possess that best qualifies you to manage public employees and handle public funding?
Smith: In order to manage public employees and funds, a leader must be trustworthy and possess the leadership and management skills necessary to optimize efficiency and productivity while maintaining a standard of excellence in all work done. Throughout my career, I have demonstrated each of these things. I have handled cases involving trade secrets and material non-public information worth millions of dollars and safeguarded both client confidences and funds.
I have also successfully led teams of attorneys and staff working on sensitive matters and in high-stress scenarios. I have demonstrated an aptitude for improving efficiency on projects that I manage, and the ability to motivate others to do their best work. Since joining the Teton County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, I have successfully streamlined a number of office protocols, and revised our vendor subscriptions to save the office thousands of dollars. If elected prosecuting attorney, I will continue such optimization over the next four years and beyond.
Sosa: As a public defender, I spend my time learning as much as I can about the individuals I represent. I get to know where they work, discuss their upbringing, and learn about their families, and use that intimate knowledge to advise them on how to proceed while their case is pending by telling them to begin treatment or to seek safe housing. The nature of my role means working with clients who have limited financial means, so I spend a significant amount of time learning what resources exist to bring them the best outcome post-conviction.
I am ready to use these skills to learn about public employees and emphasize their strengths. I have already begun to research and meet with local resource groups, exploring ways to supplement public funding and ensure that we don’t ask for a huge tax budget increase, giving community members as much support as possible.
When it comes down to it, my experience is not in cases with millions of dollars at stake or defending corporate fraud. My experience is in working with Idahoans and helping them turn their lives around with limited resources. I understand that when working in Idaho, we have to be creative with funds. We cannot outsource work just because it is more tedious or time-consuming. I have developed a deep knowledge of the ins and outs of the state from the time I moved here years ago, and I will use that to serve our county efficiently while managing employees respectfully.
What are your views regarding the role of the media in covering your county? How can you best work with local reporters to ensure coverage of the issues?
Sosa: In a smaller county like Teton County, we all deserve to know how justice is dealt. If there’s a crime that’s a risk to the public or that causes the death of one of our neighbors, we deserve to know what happens, how the crime is charged and how a prosecutor holds that individual accountable. I look forward to working with local media outlets to increase transparency within our legal system. I have regularly spoken out about tracking and publishing case demographics, and the media would directly help me get that vital information to the public.
I am also a believer that elected officials should be accessible and held accountable on a daily basis. The media should be a tool for transparency and education for the people of our valley.
Smith: Growing up, my mother was a journalist. I have the utmost respect for news organizations and the role that they play in keeping society informed about current events and conditions, inspiring critical thinking and discussion, and inciting positive change.
As prosecuting attorney, I will have legal and ethical obligations that govern my interactions with the media and limit the things that I can discuss or disclose. But within legal and ethical bounds, I will welcome news coverage of all aspects of my office’s work, and seek to collaborate with local news organizations to publish case statistics and other materials to increase transparency of our criminal justice system.