UTAH COUNTY, Utah — The FOX 13 Investigative team has spoken with more than a half-dozen past and present members of the Utah County Attorney’s Office who are “deeply concerned” with what they describe as unethical behavior by their boss.
Last week, Utah County Attorney David Leavitt was accused of inappropriately dismissing a stalking charge against a campaign donor who also served an LDS mission with Leavitt’s brother.
Employees now say Leavitt asked members of the office to go easy on a “handyman” who did masonry work at the county attorney’s family home in Orem.
Dale Bowles has been booked into the Utah County Jail more than 40 times, according to a jail spokesperson.
Leavitt said he first prosecuted Bowles in his previous role as Juab County Attorney. The two eventually reacquainted and Leavitt invited him to work at his home in Utah County.
“I ran on the platform to change the culture of the Utah County Attorney’s Office,” Leavitt said. “Dale Bowles is a nonviolent guy who is just trying to get to work... That’s what the criminal justice system should be about.”
Utah County Attorney David Leavitt said he told prosecutors to consider leniency in his employee's criminal case as part of a larger policy initiative— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) January 14, 2022
Even those who agree with his criminal justice reforms say he should have chosen a better example to avoid conflict of interest pic.twitter.com/Yp7xLflCgi
Prosecutors told FOX 13 when Leavitt was elected Utah County Attorney they knew it would fundamentally change the way some cases are handled due to his philosophy of “redemptive justice.” However, they describe a large number of employees who were frustrated with Leavitt’s intervention on cases in which he had a personal relationship with a defense attorney or defendant.
Several employees have described a 2018 meeting in which Leavitt addressed the staff on his first week in office.
During that meeting, he brought up a pending traffic case against Bowles. The handyman had been charged with driving on a suspended license, an ignition interlock violation, and a head lamp violation.
“He literally turned to the newest prosecutor in the office,” described former Deputy Utah County Attorney Lance Bastian. “He said, ‘You have a case against a guy that’s been working for me. He’s a good guy... because of that connection, I’m going to conflict myself off of that case.’”
"There was a pause for a minute, and all of us kind of breathed a sigh of relief,” Bastian continued. “But then in the next breath, he says, ‘But before I do, if there’s something you can do, figure out a way to dismiss that case or just help this guy out, just give him some kind of a break. I’d really appreciate it.’”
Sherry Ragan, a prosecutor who has since retired from the Utah County Attorney’s Office, said it was clear that Leavitt wanted his friend’s case to be treated leniently.
“The more he talked, the more evident it was,” Ragan said. “The fact that he was working at (Leavitt’s) house was surprising to us... It seemed not very smart to have this guy work at your house.”
Another employee, who asked not to be named, described the interaction as “jaw dropping.”
“Whoever was handling that case needed to handle it specifically leniently,” the attorney described. “He was trying to exert some influence... He was gesturing towards doing the right thing by saying he needs to wall himself off, but doing the opposite by giving a directive.”
“It blew me away. It blew everybody away,” Bastian said. “That was all anybody could talk about for the rest of the day because it was so wildly inappropriate... All of us would say, ‘Woah? Really? He really said that? He really did that? Like, in front of people?”
“He knows that conflicts of interest are bad, but he doesn’t actually know what a conflict of interest is,” described another attorney. “All of us were deeply shocked and kind of looking around at each other. Like, is this really being said?”
Pona Sitake, the rookie prosecutor assigned to the Bowles case, said Leavitt’s meeting impacted the way the case was handled. He has since left the Utah County Attorney’s Office.
He spoke with FOX 13 News in a phone interview.
“(The case) probably would have had a different outcome,” Sitake said. “He didn’t tell me anything specific to do, but he made it clear from the stories... he didn’t want (Bowles’) license to have further suspension added to it.”
The ignition interlock and driving on a suspended license charges against Bowles were dismissed. Bowles pleaded guilty to the head lamp violation.
Linda F. Smith, an attorney and member of the Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee, said she believes Leavitt should have never used a case involving his employee as an example to discuss new policy.
“One he told his staff, ‘Wink wink – I want you to handle this case a particular way... that probably created a personal conflict of interest for all of his staff,” Smith said. “(Leavitt) made the mistake of getting involved.”
In an interview with FOX 13 News, Leavitt defended his decision to discuss Bowles’ case with his staff as an example of a larger problem with the criminal justice system.
Leavitt said he does not know or remember if he “walled himself off” from the case, but said if he did then it was an unnecessary precaution.
“How in the world are we helping society by taking a person like (Bowles) and continuing to keep them down and down and down?” Leavitt said. “There are thousands of people like Dale Bowles... I used the Dale Bowles example because I’m so intimately involved with that example.”
“Pick up another file from the office and learn the facts,” Smith said. “Use that as an example instead.”
Leavitt said the Utah County Attorney’s Office does not have a set policy to determine whether cases amount to a conflict of interest, but each case is examined by him and his staff on a case-by-case basis.
“I encourage my prosecutors to get as close to every case as they possibly can,” Leavitt said. “It’s important to get as close to these cases as you can... I didn’t direct the prosecutor in this case to do anything other than follow the policy of the office. Dale Bowles wasn’t given special treatment. No one’s been given special treatment.”
Leavitt said he gave Sitake a pat on the back for handling the case to his satisfaction.
“The way you handled that case, that was perfect,” Sitake recalled being told. “That’s how I want you to handle all your cases.”
In 2020, Bowles was charged with possession of meth. Unlike the traffic case, Leavitt said he decided it would have been a conflict for his office to prosecute.
The case is being handled by the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office.
Leavitt defended his decision to handle the meth case differently than the traffic case.
“You’re dealing with the difference between a felony and a minor traffic violation,” Leavitt said.
“Does the (Utah State) Bar discriminate on conflicts of interest – whether it’s an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony?” asked FOX 13 investigative reporter Adam Herbets.
“I don’t think so,” Leavitt said, “but the difference here, Adam, is this – I didn’t make a specific recommendation or specific decision on the traffic case.”
“If I call Salt Lake County and say, ‘I’d like you to handle a driving on suspension case from 2000 and whenever, no one is going to take that case,” Leavitt continued.
Although Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill could not discuss the specifics of the Bowles case, he disputed Leavitt’s characterization of the relationship between their two offices.
“When a sister jurisdiction reaches out with a conflict, we make ourselves available the same way they do for us,” Gill said.
FOX 13 has learned there is at least one pending complaint with the Utah State Bar against Leavitt due to his handling of the Marc Stewart Allen felony stalking case.
It’s unclear whether a Utah State Bar complaint has been filed in relation to the Bowles case.
“People can find a conspiracy anywhere they want to look,” Leavitt said. “Have I done anything wrong? Not at all.”