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Incumbent Jefferson County Prosecutor Taylor and former Prosecutor Butikofer face-off for the second time

Mark Taylor, left, and Paul Butikofer | Courtesy photos
RIGBY — In an election rematch for Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney, former prosecuting attorney Paul Butikofer, who served from Jan. 2017 to Jan. 2021, is challenging current prosecuting attorney Mark Taylor, who has served from 2021 until now.
The race is for a four-year term. Both candidates are Republican.
EastIdahoNews.com sent the same eight questions to each county candidate. Their responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less. EastIdahoNews.com is publishing the answers in their entirety, and without any grammatical or style editing.
The primary election is May 21.
Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.
Taylor: I am a conservative Republican, Jefferson County resident. I currently serve as the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney, an office I’ve held for the last 3 years after winning the 2020 election against the same opponent I face in this election, who seeks to get back into the office.
Originally from St. George, I attended BYU-Provo on a Leadership Scholarship. Shortly after marrying my amazing wife, I began studying law and economics at the Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, VA, then investigated and prosecuted civil cases for the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. for 11 years. The annual evaluations of my legal skills and judgment consistently rated me “outstanding,” the highest possible. Life was good, but my wife, Elodie, and I realized it was not where we wanted to raise our four children. We looked for a rural area with conservative values rooted in personal liberty and self-reliance where our children could develop a strong work ethic, and ultimately chose to move our family to Jefferson County. I gave up my prestigious career and taught seminary at Rigby High School before joining a law firm in Rexburg.
You can find out more about me and my family at: https://marktaylor4prosecutingattorney.com
Butikofer: I was born and raised in Rigby. I spent several years out of the area while I went to college (Boise State-Go Broncos!), Law School (University of Idaho), worked as an attorney, and served in the Army as an active duty JAG. I came back to Rigby in 2003 to be closer to my family and married my wife shortly after. Between the two of us, we have 3 children and 13 grandchildren. I have been active in the Lions Club few years and have loved every minute of it. Our community has so many wonderful people who are working to make it a better place.
I have over thirty years of experience as a criminal prosecutor (over 10 years) or defense over (15 years). I have handled thousands of cases through a resolution, to include dozens of jury trials to verdict. I was the Jefferson County Prosecutor from January 2017 through January 2021, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have also handled a consistent amount of civil work during this period which included family law, property, planning and zoning, personnel, and other county-related civil matters. I have even tried a civil case to verdict.
Why are you seeking political office? Briefly explain your political platform.
Butikofer: I am running for office because I believe our county deserves better than it is getting. My platform is to aggressively, but fairly, prosecute the felony offenses committed in Jefferson County. Our families and property cannot be safe if we do not hold those that cause harm accountable. The current prosecutor has never personally handled a criminal case from start to finish despite holding the office for over 3 and a half years. Instead he has opted to not file tough cases because a loss at trial is politically embarrassing. This should not happen and will not happen under my leadership.We all know that Eastern Idaho has seen crime increase over the last few years, but Jefferson County felony filings have dropped. In 2019, my office filed 97 felonies (filings were down statewide in 2020 due to Supreme Court COVID restrictions). However, in 2023, the current prosecutor only filed 75 (a 22% drop). We also filed 12 felony charges involving abuse of children or vulnerable adults that resulted in a felony conviction. In 2022 and 2023, the current prosecutor only filed 3 which resulted in felony convictions (a 75% drop). You can find these numbers on the Supreme Court website. This reduction is not because we have less crime. It is because we have less accountability.
Taylor: I don’t seek political office, but the shortage of qualified attorneys in Jefferson County compels me to serve to make a positive impact. Then and now, I run as a reformer.
Historically, the civil side of the job has been overlooked. Now, I work full-time addressing the civil law needs of our growing county. With just two experienced deputies, instead of three, we cleared the backlog of over 420 criminal cases I inherited from my opponent—Robin Dunn’s former chief deputy. Transitioning to a paperless case management system improved efficiency, expanded case capacity, and created a database for tracking cases and office performance. Unlike in the past, staff must be certified victim-witness coordinators, and staff no longer approve their own time cards.
Further reforms are needed. Decades of inconsistent adherence to civil laws have led to numerous unlawful subdivisions, roads, and buildings, some unsafe. We must continue the shift from “good ole boy” governance to fair application of the law. I will continue advising officials to prevent costly liabilities. We also need ongoing updates and clarifications to our county ordinances.
After the Rigby Middle School shooting, I focused on studying and implementing effective strategies to prevent targeted school attacks, collaborating closely with local partners. As a result, I have become the state’s leading attorney on this issue. Alongside state-level partners, I have worked for two years on legislation to advance these practices statewide. I aim to stay in office to guide its progression into state law, possibly by next year.
What areas in your county need immediate improvement? What actions will you take to address those needs?
Taylor: 1. The county commissioners and I recently received verifiable evidence from a whistleblower that an assistant clerk has deliberately falsified county financial records. I initiated a public criminal investigation after disagreeing with how others approached it. After the initial investigation uncovered certain threshold issues, I handed the ongoing investigation over to the attorney general’s office, but will assist them as needed.
2. There is much disinformation concerning the Dillon Butikofer sentence, attempting to paint my office as soft on crime. The truth is much more nuanced.
Sentencing decisions are solely the judge’s. While the prosecution and defense make recommendations, the judge is largely uninfluenced by them. However, the pre-sentencing investigation and report from the Idaho Department of Corrections, submitted after guilt is established, significantly influences sentencing. So prosecutors throughout the state routinely agree in plea agreements to align with the IDOC’s recommendation. This was done in Butikofer’s case.
The IDOC’s recommendation of probation surprised us and put my office in a difficult position. Reneging on the plea agreement would enable Butikofer to withdraw his guilty plea. We had to honor the plea agreement. Knowing the plea agreement terms, the judge should have ignored the recommendation. However, when Butikofer violated his probation last fall, we recommended the full ten-year sentence that the judge had initially suspended, no rider. Expressing regret for his earlier sentence, the judge ordered Butikofer to serve a rider. He is still in custody. Concurring with IDOC is no longer a plea agreement option in my office for severe crimes.
Butikofer: The primary role of a prosecuting attorney is to prosecute crime and that cannot happen without support from law enforcement and other community partners. The relationships and partnerships are essential to a properly functioning criminal justice system. Under the current administration, law enforcement has lost trust and confidence that their cases will be given the attention and effort required to get them from charge to conviction. The Supreme Court numbers show this is true. Sex offense trials take hundreds of man hours, are difficult and stressful, and often result in a frustrating loss, but a seasoned prosecutor knows that they are part of the job. Aggressive defense attorneys cannot stop a good prosecutor who has the facts and law on his side, and justice demands nothing short of a full-effort. This loss of trust also extends to the community and others within the justice system. In another case involving the homicide of a child (i.e. shaken baby), the current prosecutor offered a plea agreement in which his office agreed to recommend probation if the Idaho Department of Corrections report supported it. The way they drafted the agreement, they made it clear to the Department of Corrections that probation was the intended outcome. However, after his office recommended probation at sentencing, he went to the media, feigned surprise, and placed all responsibility on the judge and Department of Corrections. The criminal justice system cannot work when the State’s attorney loses credibility with the public, the police, and the courts.
What are the greatest long-term challenges facing people in your county? What is your plan to meet those challenges?
Butikofer: We are one of the fastest growing counties in the nation and that growth brings growing pains. Our planning and zoning department is working hard to manage the growth so that we do not create future problems such as contaminated groundwater from overdevelopment and unnecessary road safety issues. My plan to meet this challenge is to ensure they have legal representation they trust and can rely on. It is not enough to simply have an attorney who works for a county. The employees and elected officials have to trust that the prosecutor’s office will provide competent counsel and will work to further the interests of those he represents and not his own personal interests. I will not use the Planning and Zoning Department and the power of the State to protect my own property interests I will also place an increased emphasis on juvenile justice actions. After working as a criminal law attorney for 30 years, I have seen families where the State prosecutes parents, their children as juveniles, and then the children as they become adults. The juvenile justice system is the best place to break this cycle. However, this takes a prosecutor who understands all facets of the justice system.
Taylor: In Jefferson County, the most pressing long-term challenges revolve around managing development and land use amidst unrelenting growth. Surprisingly, crime rates have decreased despite the population boom. However, unwise or overly-permissive land development poses a risk to land values and our overall quality of life.
Developers aim to minimize costs and maximize profits by increasing housing density, yet the county lacks the infrastructure to sustain high population densities. High-density subdivisions relying on septic systems pose a risk of polluting neighboring wells, which must be dug increasingly deeper to meet increased demand on groundwater. Additionally, key existing road intersections can’t handle current traffic levels, and expanding county roads would escalate road maintenance costs—a significant portion of our budget.
While we’re open to welcoming more conservatives and family members to our area, it’s crucial that we approach growth with intelligence and strategy. The Planning & Zoning Administrator and I have been diligently updating and enhancing our land-use ordinances, and are presently revising our road regulations. We’re also thoroughly reviewing and renegotiating every area of impact agreement with the county’s cities to ensure responsible and sustainable growth.
However, citizen input is essential in this process. It’s crucial for every resident to stay informed about and actively participate in the planning & zoning process to safeguard their land value and quality of life.
In Jefferson County, the most pressing long-term challenges revolve around managing development and land use amidst unrelenting growth. Surprisingly, crime rates have decreased despite the population boom. However, unwise or overly-permissive land development poses a risk to land values and our overall quality of life.
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views? How will you communicate directly with constituents?
Taylor: The prosecuting attorney’s role is to uphold the law and serve the public interest impartially. Political considerations only arise when deciding whether to enforce the law. In this respect, I’m well known for advocating the strict adherence to and enforcement of the law, in line with Constitutional principles, regardless of personal relationships or affiliations.
In line with this principle, I refuse to enforce laws that are unconstitutional or infringe upon fundamental human rights, including our right to bodily integrity. However, I won’t advocate for disregarding laws simply because I disagree with their outcomes, as long as the laws themselves are constitutional. If we seek different outcomes, the appropriate course of action is to amend the law rather than disregard it.
I’m committed to addressing citizens’ inquiries about cases or county legal matters within the bounds of the law and ethical guidelines. However, it’s important to note that my office cannot provide free legal advice on personal matters. To schedule a meeting with me or my deputies, individuals are encouraged to send an email to the office first. We will promptly respond to these emails and arrange an appointment if the subject matter is appropriate for us to address.
Butikofer: The office of prosecuting attorney should never be used as a political tool. The criminal justice system can only operate when the people have trust and confidence that the system seeks just results for just reasons. Whether you support or hate President Trump, there is no doubt that the public confidence in the justice system has suffered as a result of politicized prosecution. The office of prosecuting attorney brings with it a lot of discretion and responsibility. This discretion must be exercised within the bounds of the law, reason, and justice. Examples such as the current prosecutor’s frivolous filing of the death penalty on a 1st Degree Murder, just to turn around and offer a manslaughter on a plea agreement, or improperly charging his own neighbor with a trespass charge to assist in his own property dispute with the county over his private road, are the kind of acts that undermines public confidence in the office. Jefferson County is full of people who have different opinions, values, and political beliefs, some of which may differ from mine. While I understand that someone will always disagree with my decisions, I will always seek justice.
What parts of the county budget could use more funding? Where are places in the budget where cuts could be made?
Butikofer: Where are places in the budget that cuts could be made? As I stated above, the 75% drop in child-related felony convictions (most of which are sex offenses), needs to be reversed. The increased filings will require more legal assets. The prosecuting attorney’s office would likely need an additional part-time position to handle the increased criminal caseload that I intend to bring.
Taylor: In my observation, Jefferson County tends to be pretty careful how it spends taxpayer’s money. I conduct an annual review of my office’s budget to find areas where savings are possible without compromising our ability to fulfill our responsibilities. I’ve made significant budget changes, spending more in some areas, less in others. The aim isn’t merely cost cutting but efficiency.
For example, unlike most other prosecuting attorney’s offices in Eastern Idaho, my office isn’t struggling with multiple attorney vacancies. When I took office, I opted for quality over quantity, eliminating one attorney position but boosting salaries for the remaining ones to attract experienced attorneys and become competitive with neighboring counties and the private sector. I invested in good support staff and case management software. This strategy has elevated the efficiency of our team and saved $90,777.78 in salaries.*
Of course, a budget is one thing—actual spending is another. For example, my budget has a substantial contingency fund for potential high-cost cases (like Fremont County’s Daybell cases). It’s prudent to be prepared. My actual expenditures compared to what my opponent’s projected spending would have been shows a savings of $78,260.65.*
(* The numbers provided were derived by subtracting my office’s figures for 2021-2024 from my opponent’s projected numbers for the same years. His projections were based on his 2020 figures, with each subsequent year adjusted for inflation (CPI or Jefferson County’s COLA), ensuring a fair dollar-for-dollar comparison. Graphs displaying the data from 2020-2024 are available on my campaign’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Taylor-for-Jefferson-County-Prosecuting-Attorney.)
What is the role of local media in your community? How can county officials work to have a better relationship with the media?
Taylor: Local media has a crucial role in informing and educating the average citizen. However, that role is diminished when the reporting contains inaccuracies. Greater attention to accurate details, even if it means you’re not the first to break a story, would do a lot to increase county officials’ confidence in talking to the press.
When I was in the federal government, I was taught a mantra: “No one ever advanced their career by talking to the media.” I had hoped that was not the case, but my experience since taking office has tended to support rather than refute this. The media’s quest for brevity at times compromises the integrity of complex stories that defy simple plot lines, leading to misunderstandings. This problem is compounded by unmoderated comments on media platforms, which enable individuals with personal agendas to foster echo chambers of disdain toward those who dedicate themselves to serving their communities.
Government is complex and the people in office are generally trying to do their best, but they would do their jobs even better if the media returned to traditional investigative journalism rather than merely repeating what gets told to them. There is often more to a story than people are telling the press in brief telephone interviews.
Butikofer: The media is an important part of our community. Prosecutors must comply with Rule 3.8 of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers when making statements to the press. He/she cannot say anything publicly that could compromise a person’s right to a fair trial or subject the person to heightened public condemnation. More or less, we are prohibited from using the press to litigate our cases in the court of public opinion, and this is a good rule. Prosecutors should always ensure the media has as much access to records as allowed under the law. Public records are just that: Public. They belong to the people and the media is the way the information is normally shared. My office will be as transparent as legally possible.
Voter turnout and participation continues to be low in Idaho. What efforts can be made to stimulate greater voter involvement in elections and government?
Butikofer: I think voter turnout is low for multiple reasons. First, I think the Idaho Republican Party’s decision to use the caucus system will lower turnout in the primary election. It’s no secret that most local offices are decided in the primary in Jefferson County, so that decision matters. The second main reason is a general unawareness of local government. Most voters have busy lives with work, family, school, and hobbies, and the local government does not register until something goes terribly wrong. The best way to break this is through community involvement and outreach. The prosecutor should interface with the local community through participation in nonprofits and schools. This is one of the reasons I joined the Lions and why my deputy would regularly present to classes at the local high school. This type of community involvement requires a genuine interest and concern for our community. Jefferson County has always been my home and I love this community very much. I want to see our people safe and happy. I will do everything in my power to do this.
Taylor: When individuals realize that their involvement can actually make a difference, they become more motivated to take part in civic matters. This is especially evident at the local level, where laws directly shape daily life and community input holds significant sway. Shifting focus away from national news, where our influence is limited, and directing attention towards local affairs, where we can see that our voices truly matter, can lead to meaningful change.
The post Incumbent Jefferson County Prosecutor Taylor and former Prosecutor Butikofer face-off for the second time appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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