Neal and Malek vying for Bonneville County prosecuting attorney

IDAHO FALLS — Local attorney John Malek is challenging current Bonneville County Prosecutor Randy Neal in the race for Bonneville County prosecuting attorney.

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.

Neal:
– I am the elected Prosecuting Attorney for Bonneville County
– I have 40 years overall in law enforcement and the law, 18 years as a law enforcement officer, 22 years as an attorney and 8 1/2 years as a prosecutor (state and federal)
– I have prosecuted thousands of cases, including over two dozen jury trials with a 97% conviction rate
– I Graduated with honors from the William S. Boyd School of Law (UNLV), and Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications,
– Born in Gooding, Idaho, raised on a small farm in Tuttle, graduated from Twin Falls High School.
– Previously certified as a peace officer, instructor and expert witness in law enforcement subjects in Utah, Texas, Nevada and Idaho.
– Admitted to practice law in eleven jurisdictions and have represented clients throughout the country.
– Admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and have argued before the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Federal Circuits; and the Idaho and Utah Court of Appeals.
– Republican Precinct Committee Officer and member of the Regional and State Central Committees
– Prior service as a Volunteer Reserve Deputy Sheriff and E.M.T.
– Past Commander, local veteran support organization, (not named to maintain its political neutrality)
– Pro Bono CASA Guardian Ad Litem (Child Protection cases)
– Church Missionary, Ward Leadership, Boy Scout/youth programs adult leader, Children’s program instructor, Sunday School Instructor

Malek: I am a proud husband to my wonderful wife Margaret and father to my five boys and soon-to-be-born daughter. I am a veteran and have been a military officer in the United States Air Force and Air Guard (no federal endorsement implied or intended!) for 16 years and have worked in the legal field for just over a decade—most of that time as a prosecutor for the military. I got my bachelor’s from the University of Portland, my Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Montana, a Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Weapons Effects, Policy and Proliferation from the Air Force Institute of Technology, and my Juris Doctor from Gonzaga University (Go Zags!).

Before becoming a lawyer, I was a nuclear weapons operator and excelled as an operator. I was then selected to teach at one of the Air Force’s leadership schools. From there I went the JAG officer route and worked operations law, special operations, and criminal prosecution. After getting off active duty I worked for the Department of Energy for about a year before starting my own law firm.

Why are you seeking political office? Briefly explain your political platform.

Malek: I am running for office because concerned citizens asked me to, and because I believe that I will be an effective public servant, leader, and will seek Justice for our community. Violent crime is up at least ten percent, but felony prosecutions are down about ten percent. Our community is growing and the current prosecutor is not rising to the challenges of our growing population. I will hire additional attorneys to fill vacancies and run an effective and professional office. I will improve the working relationship between the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement, and help them crack down on rising crime.

Neal:
– I believe there is honor in humble, selfless public service
As a republican I believe in:
– Personal responsibility and Accountability
– Maximizing individual choice and freedom and minimizing government interference and taxation
– That life is sacred
– That the U.S. Constitution is an inspired document, and that its protection is the primary responsibility of all elected officials
– That all citizens have the right to be heard
– That all citizens have the right to worship according to their own faith and conscience
– That America succeeds when the majority of its citizens have adhered to conservative values and principles
– That the right to self-defense and the defense of others is a natural right we are all born with, and our individual right to keep and bear arms must not be interfered with in matters of self-defense, the common defense of our community and to resist tyranny as our founding fathers found it necessary at the birth of our nation.
– That elected officials must protect families and parental rights to choose what is best for their children
– That political decisions should be made with transparency, with civil discussion and mutual respect
– That managing public funds is a sacred trust, and nothing should be spent on anything which is not absolutely necessary to protect our community or fulfill the purposes of government set forth in the Preamble to the United States and Idaho Constitutions

What areas in your county need immediate improvement? What actions will you take to address those needs?

Neal:
– The prosecutor’s office and local law enforcement agencies are facing a staffing shortage, which is part of a statewide and nationwide crisis
– We are staffed with the same number of attorneys the office employed in 1987
– Fortunately, we are fully staffed in all other areas.
– I have been aggressively recruiting new attorneys, visiting law school campuses, increasing pay and other incentives with the help of the county commissioners, and increasing where and how we post our job announcements
– The sad truth is that there are simply fewer attorneys who wish to work in criminal and especially the public sector, at least partly because of changed perceptions concerning law enforcement and prosecution
– Like law enforcement, I am working through outreach programs and social media to improve our image as public servants with a noble task
– It is simply not practical to believe that applicants will suddenly re-appear
– The current leadership challenge is to get the job done with the attorneys we have
– That has meant a complete overall in the way we prosecute, reducing redundancy and increasing the ways in which our support staff help us to accomplish our mission
– And it is working, we have not asked law enforcement to curtain any of their activities including arrests, and the courts have not seen a substantial impact in the processing of criminal cases
– This national trend and market conditions will not be quickly or easily solved
– It requires a long-term approach, as I discuss in other parts of this questionnaire

Malek: There is a perception that there is a revolving door in our jails that is allowing violent criminals to reoffend. There are also serious concerns about the way money is spent in the current prosecutor’s office. Additionally, a severe lack of communication between the prosecutor’s office and law enforcement and the defense community is causing inefficiency, injustice, and harm to the community. Police officers are finding out whether they have to be at court from defense counsel. New vehicles, office accoutrements, TVs, and other extraneous expenditures are wasting taxpayer dollars.

My experiences prosecuting in Kootenai County and for the military, and running the biggest prosecutor’s office in the Air Force give me the experience and discipline to address these issues. I will hire the right people and prioritize the core function of the prosecutor’s office to seek justice.

East Idaho News recently published an article about the new “emotional support” puppy. This is a prime example of the loss of focus in the current office. Office personnel are being used against their will to babysit an untrained puppy who is in no way a support animal. Meanwhile, a fantastic community partner, the Idaho Chaplains, have six trained support animals who have not been banned from the courthouse the way “Solfi” has. The prosecutor also just spent money on military-style challenge coins. I’ve got a collection of those and love dropping a challenge at the officer’s club as much as any military operator, but there are bigger problems that need fixing right now.

What are the greatest long-term challenges facing people in your county? What is your plan to meet those challenges?

Malek: The growth of our population here is presenting us with many challenges we need to face head on. There are inadequate resources to conduct the forensic autopsies needed to prosecute serious offenses like fentanyl distribution. We need more police officers, more prosecutors, and more defense counsel to keep cases moving is a timely and just manner. We need more expertise in the prosecutor’s office so that cases do not get dismissed for improper handling as has happened on multiple occasions in the last two years.

Having been to recruiting events here in Idaho, we can absolutely recruit more attorneys to the area and support law enforcement in their recruitment and retention efforts. Reversing current trends with respect to violent crime and the lack of prosecutor support to law enforcement will take effort, but is achievable.

The Eastern Idaho Forensic Pathology Center was recently voted down by Bannock County, but we can take a leadership role in bringing that much needed resource to Eastern Idaho. This is a much needed resource that will help address the fact that the number of autopsies per death in Bonneville County are some of the lowest in the entire nation.

Neal:
– The single greatest challenge in Bonneville County is a rising crime rate
– Although growth is a substantial factor, we cannot simply wait for growth to end
– One major factor is recidivism, or the number of criminals who commit additional crimes despite being punished or given opportunities at rehabilitation
– A very small number of people commit the majority of crimes
– As part of my Career Criminal Initiative (signified by an orange dot on our case files), I have worked with law enforcement and probation agencies to identify and target career criminals and lock them up for a long time
– I have worked with the legislature to change our laws to allow law enforcement more involvement in enforcing conditions and restrictions of probation, and to allow the prosecutor’s office more tools in assisting victims to collect on orders of restitution
– In those cases involving mental health, addiction or other similar root causes, we are focusing on problem solving courts

How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views? How will you communicate directly with constituents?

Neal:
– The people of Bonneville County want elected officials to lead based on our common community values and principles
– I have made prosecutorial decisions with transparency and with opportunities for law enforcement and victims to be meaningfully heard
– As part of this stewardship, I have used town halls, media interviews and social media to fully explain in simple, understandable ways, the basis for our decisions
– I have trained my prosecutors to be able to articulate the basis for each decision, and to describe how our decisions facilitate reaching our prosecutorial priorities and goals
– Town halls and other forums such as social media are keeping the community informed and maintaining our strong ties with the community. The Sheriff, State Police District Captain, local Chiefs of Police and I have already held six town hall meetings throughout the county
– As prosecuting attorney, I was elected to protect everyone, and along with our law enforcement partners we continue to form strong ties with the community
– Addressing crime in our county is community responsibility, not just a government responsibility
– Fortunately, the goal to keep our community safe is shared across all political viewpoints and our community is working together to reduce crime regardless of differing political views

Malek: I plan on seeking justice every day I am in office. There is nothing partisan about seeking justice. Victims and their families need justice. Those accused of crimes need justice as well. I believe our entire community is united in a desire to address the rising crime rates and ensure our criminal justice system is responsive and just. I am responsive to phone calls and emails now, and do not plan on changing that. I will also be a regular presence at the courthouse and other public fora so that Bonneville County citizens can speak their minds and be heard.

What parts of the county budget could use more funding? Where are places in the budget where cuts could be made?

Malek: I plan on addressing waste in the prosecutor’s office before asking for additional funding. In my many discussions with law enforcement and others, it is clear that we need additional attorneys, and law enforcement officers. We need forensic and autopsy capacity to address the types of crimes (such as fentanyl distribution) we are seeing plague our community. These are things I plan on working with City, County, and State partners on regardless of whether that requires additional funding or simply a reallocation of resources.

Neal:
– Traditionally, the prosecutor’s office has not been a major percentage of the county budget.
– However, due to recent changes in conditions in the regional legal job market, “cheap labor” as it pertains to attorneys in the public sector is becoming mostly a thing of the past
– In eastern Idaho, there are over two dozen vacancies for public sector attorneys in half a dozen different jurisdictions and offices.
– This shortage is both a statewide and nationwide crisis
– We have been calling on our legal assistants, which are fortunately at full staff, to step up to fill the gaps in our attorney staffing and do more paralegal type work
– Many have college and even advanced degrees and working far beyond the expectations of their job descriptions
– We have no other option but to increase pay and work incentives to recruit new prosecutors and retain our current staff
– Fortunately, Bonneville County has been operating with a lean budget for decades
– Conservative principles have prevented the county from having a lot of “fat to trim”

What is the role of local media in your community? How can county officials work to have a better relationship with the media?

Neal:
– As a public official I believe in transparency and accountability through keeping the public informed
– I have kept the public more informed through traditional and social media
– We have also been posting the outcomes of our prosecutions through “transparency in sentencing” posts which inform the public of our recommendations and the judge’s sentence
– To every degree possible I have cooperated with news media with an eye toward allowing the public to understand prosecutorial decisions in a transparent way
– Our emphasis is on effective prosecution and not simply on efficiency
– As a public servant, our community has the right to sufficient information to evaluate our effectiveness as their advocate in the criminal courts
– As the primary legal advisor to the county government, I have worked to streamline public records requests and maximize the transparency of our efforts to serve the public

Malek: I will be as open and transparent as possible. I will keep my ethical responsibilities regarding speaking on active investigations and cases where an impartial jury may be needed in mind. Honesty and transparency with the citizens of Bonneville County and the media are essential to building trust and confidence in our justice system.

Voter turnout and participation continues to be low in Idaho. What efforts can be made to stimulate greater voter involvement in elections and government?

Malek: I plan on being fearless in my willingness to engage with voters and encourage their participation. Making sure information is available to voters so they can choose how to participate in our political process is essential to the continued health of our civic community. There are many ways to talk to voters, and I plan on using as many as possible.

Neal:
– Growing up, some of the most trusted institutions of my generation were church, law enforcement, boy scouts and elected officials
– Now, forty years later the these great institutions have become punchlines
– This has effected the way younger generations look at our country and our community
– The lack of involvement in the elections in my view reflects this change in cultural outlook
– If we do not reverse this trend, we will continue to see a slide in trust of patriotic institutions that were always the symbols of the greatness of the American experiment, and an apathy toward freedom and democracy
– That begins with our children. We must instill in them values that were the backbone of American pride.
– We must push back against the perceived “coolness” of being unpatriotic and being cynical of the motives of public officials
– My solution, to the degree I can make a difference, is in every decision seeking to do the right thing for the right reason
– Case by case, all public servants must restore public trust, and in my case, prove that there is honor in the fight for justice

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