Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Finally, We Find Out Why Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller Fired Kent Morgan, And It May Be Justified

After a month, we now finally learn why Salt Lake County's controversial District Attorney Lohra Miller (pictured at left) abruptly fired Kent Morgan, as originally discussed in this previous post on March 4th. Morgan has previously claimed he was fired strictly for political reasons, in order to remove him as a potential future political rival. Morgan ran against Miller and lost at the Republican convention in 2006.

In a Salt Lake Tribune article entitled "Ex-prosecutor Kent Morgan: I want my name cleared", published on April 16th, 2008, Morgan disclosed that he is friends with a man being prosecuted by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office for allegedly running a prostitution ring in Cottonwood Heights. But Morgan - fired from the office in March for allegedly leaking confidential information to Steven Santiago Maese - denied giving his friend any information about the case, or that he even had information to give. Maese, 31, was charged in October 2006 with felony counts of exploiting a prostitute, money laundering and racketeering. His trial is scheduled to begin April 23rd before 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy. KSL Channel 5 has also posted a story on this development.

A letter from Lohra Miller's office to the county Career Services Council overseeing Morgan's appeal of the firing claims Morgan was fired for providing Maese "confidential, internal information". The letter to the council - supplied to The Salt Lake Tribune by a source other than Morgan - cites a police report indicating Maese knew information only an "inside source" at the D.A.'s office would know. It claims Morgan participated in confidential meetings about Maese's case and that phone records "confirm conversations between [Morgan and Maese] which . . . correlate to the dates when these discussions took place within the office and court dates scheduled".

The letter to the Council also claims Morgan acknowledged during a March 3rd meeting with Miller that Maese had donated significantly to his campaign, with both money and time. The letter states Maese's name did not appear on Morgan's financial disclosures. As has become her custom, Lohra Miller declined to comment on this case when queried by media on April 15th.

However, Kent Morgan continues to deny any impropriety. Morgan claims that he and Maese only discussed Maese, who has a college degree in marketing, used his skills to help Morgan with his image and appearance during his campaign run for district attorney. Morgan also acknowedged that he knew upfront that Maese was involved in an escort business, but said he felt he could accept anyone's campaign help without having to "identify with their business".

Furthermore, Morgan said he and Maese remained friends after the election, often talking about the possibility of Morgan running again in four years. But Morgan, who is the branch president of an LDS Church ward for the handicapped, said he has also urged Maese to return to his Mormon roots.

Morgan said he never told Miller about his friendship with Maese. He said he felt he had resolved any conflict by "putting up a wall" between himself and the case by never asking about it and never looking at the file. [Ed. Note: Bad, bad move, Morgan. You left your boss potentially exposed.]

A 24-year veteran of the D.A.'s Office, Morgan was the lead prosecutor in the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case and prosecuted a number of high-profile homicide cases. "I want my job back and my integrity back and I want my name cleared," Morgan said.

Public comments posted to the story show a mixed reaction. One comment, which expertly summarizes a major piece on Miller published on March 18th by the Salt Lake City Weekly, was critical of Miller:

Rudy J Snack: 4/16/2008 6:54:00 AM +13

Kent Morgan was terminated for allegedly providing confidential information from the office to a criminal defendant. While phone-record evidence of Morgan's alleged transgression has yet to rise above the level of coincidence and innuendo, its release to the news media by the district attorney while Morgan appeals his firing is, ironically, in violation of the Utah open records law, which protects such records from release until government employees have had the opportunity to exercise their rights to due process. Who's going to investigate the DA for breaking this law? Shurtleff?

Furthermore, the public record indicates that the district attorney is herself guilty of the conduct for which Kent Morgan now stands accused. Indeed, Republican insider Ozwald Balfour, who has stood charged with multiple counts of felony forcible sexual abuse since early 2005, volunteered his media production services to Miller's campaign for district attorney, and when she won the office, Miller took a meeting with Balfour to discuss dismissing the charges against him. And so while it's been documented that Balfour specifically petitioned Miller for help on his case, there's been no such nexus established in Morgan's situation. Yet he's fired and Miller's leaking confidential info to the press. Go figure.

This is not the first time that this district attorney has held others to a standard she is not willing to abide by herself. Miller operated a law firm out of her home for years without proper business licenses while prosecuting others for the same and similar violations. When a police officer investigated the licensing status of Miller's law firm, she erroneously assured the officer that the law firm had been relocated from her residence sometime before the officer's May 2005 inquiry, when in fact the office did not relocate until November 2005 after Miller's HOA issued a cease and desist letter.

When Miller's neighbors alleged that raucous parties at the district attorney's home may have included underage drinking, Miller branded those neighbors liars. What's more, South Jordan PD assured inquiring reporters that the police department had no record of underage drinking at the Miller residence, and a probe by the Attorney General concluded there was no basis to the allegations. Turns out, all of them were mistaken. A police report from December 2005 documents underage drinking at the residence by Miller's teenage son and his friends.

One constant in Miller's otherwise scatterbrained tenure as district attorney so far has been her penchant for evading, denying and ignoring culpability. Whether accepting $30,000-plus in dirty campaign contributions to get elected, inventing a crime wave from whole cloth to justify a budget increase or running off dozens of consummate professionals to install her yes-men and cronies, Miller's trained response is oblivious defiance. She slimes the opposition and then ducks for cover. For some reason, the press lets her get away with it. [Ed. Note: The propriety of the $30,000 in campaign contributions has NOT been officially challenged, to my knowledge.]

However, another comment, provided by an individual prosecuted by Morgan, is quite critical of Morgan. Unfortunately, the comment was deleted by the Tribune shortly after I began this post, but the individual, identified as Pissedoff646, had his checkbook stolen and the thief wrote a bunch of bad checks. But Morgan apparently chose to prosecute Pissedoff646 for the bad checks and he was advised to take the deal because it would upset too many applecarts if he fought it, or words to that effect. So Pissedoff646's life is now wrecked because of it. But perhaps the real reason why the comment was deleted was because he seeded it with too many f-bombs.

Commentary: Now that the story behind Morgan's termination is emerging, it appears both Kent Morgan and Lohra Miller were equally clueless when it comes to public relations. Did Kent Morgan really believe that, in his position as a PROSECUTOR, his ongoing friendship with a known pimp would not be questioned? What planet is this guy on? Prosecutors do NOT maintain close friendships with known lawbreakers. For this alone, I now consider Kent Morgan's firing justified; I would have fired his ass myself for exposing the DA's office to potential allegations of ethical impropriety.

However, Lohra Miller's ham-handed diplomacy and lack of public relations skills continue to seriously damage the integrity of her stewardship. She could have been much less cryptic and more open; she could have issued a statement briefly explaining the firing by saying that "Morgan's continuing friendship with a suspected felon compromised the professional integrity of his position". Most people could have accepted that. Instead, Miller acts that the mere fact that she fired Morgan is automatically self-justified; that's a sign of incipient megalomania. As a public servant accepting taxpayer dollars, Miller should know that transparency is not an option; it's a requirement.

Combining this act with Miller's track record of personal behavior, Lohra Miller comes across as a super-annuated Paris Hilton wannabe who thinks she was born to the manor. It's time for her to start acting like a public servant again.

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