Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Upstart Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller In The Crosshairs Again, Purges Veteran Prosecutor Kent Morgan For "Leaking"

The first time Voice Of Deseret took notice of Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller (pictured at left), it was when she became the focus of controversy over her behavior in her South Jordan neighborhood. According to a November 5th, 2007 Deseret Morning News article, some neighbors accused her of throwing loud parties replete with fighting and underage drinking, and where her guests were blocking neighbors' driveways. Miller was also accused of running an unlicensed daycare. Somehow, she wriggled out of that controversy, portraying those neighbors as a bunch of stuck-up prigs. However, I though it was just another typical neighborhood cat fight, unworthy of coverage here, so I disregarded it.

Hmmm. Maybe I should have looked at that incident a bit more closely, because on March 4th, 2008, Lohra Miller is at the center of controversy once again. The Deseret Morning News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5 report that Miller has fired 24-year veteran prosecutor Kent Morgan for allegedly "leaking information". Morgan has prosecuted many big-name cases over the years, including the Elizabeth Smart case, more than 20 murder cases and hundreds of lesser felony cases.

Note: Updated post on April 16th, 2008 provides more information on why Morgan was fired.

Morgan told KSL he was summoned to a meeting on March 3rd, where he was confronted by Miller and her deputy, Dahnelle Burton-Lee. He said, "Absolutely unprepared when I walked in. I knew something was up when I saw our personnel attorney there and knew that it was about me, but I had no idea this was coming." Morgan said he was fired for something he didn't do. "The essence of the allegations is that I leaked confidential information to a friend of mine who is facing charges, which I vehemently deny that. I did not do that, and I had no confidential information to leak to him".

Lohra Miller declined to comment personally. However, she sent out a gopher, Nate Bryan, to spin it to the media. "It is county-wide policy and, by extension, the district attorney's policy, to not comment on personnel matters," said Nate Bryan, spokesman for the district attorney's office. "Kent is still employed with the office and being that he is an employee, our policy is that we don't comment on personnel issues." It's true that he's still technically "employed"; he remains on the payroll pending his appeal hearing before the personnel review board.

Because Kent Morgan is not without recourse. Morgan is a "merit employee," which means there must be just cause for getting rid of him. Firings can be brought before the county's personnel review board. And he indicates he plans to contest the termination at a hearing on Tuesday March 11th.

Morgan, a Republican as is Miller, ran against her in 2006 for the office of district attorney. He was ousted from the race at a GOP convention so the pair did not face off in the primary. Miller went on to defeat Democratic candidate Sim Gill, who is the Salt Lake City prosecutor.

However, it is not out of the question that the vindictive Miller may have been biding her time and plotting revenge against Morgan for having the temerity to even run against Her Exalted Ladyship in the first place. On February 10th, 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Miller lobbied a bill before the Utah Legislature that would make her division heads appointed, rather than tenured, positions. Miller, a Republican D.A., insists the proposed change isn't targeting a specific subordinate - the measure even includes an exemption for existing employees - but simply would allow elected officials to fill managerial positions with people who share their vision. Democratic Councilman Jim Bradley countered that it could push the county toward a patronage system - even though Mayor Peter Corroon, a fellow Democrat, already appoints his department heads. Miller could use the bill in question to purge those who crossed her and replace them with her courtiers.

However, Peter Corroon hasn't reportedly fired any subordinates under bogus pretenses. Lohra Miller apparently has. Consequently, while Corroon can be trusted with that power, Miller has called the fundamental integrity of her stewardship into question. And it doesn't appear to be strictly an on-the-job issue; the way she tap-danced her way out of the neighborhood issue implies it may be a fundamental character flaw in her persona.

Lohra Miller is clearly a failure as district attorney. She has tried to politicize the office, has shown favoritism towards those she likes, and has acted vindictively against those she doesn't like. Unofficial word is her shop has been in a low-level uproar over her management style. It's time to give this battleaxe the boot.

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