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McEntee: Dorius — a clear case for 'just say no'

Published September 12, 2012 5:07 pm

Column • Famous prosecutor's apparent lapse in judgment defies explanation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Can anyone tell me why a former prosecutor in two of Utah's most famous murder cases, working as licensing and compliance director at Utah's liquor department, would accept gifts from a liquor-license holder?

I didn't think so.

Earl Dorius showed terrible judgment, according to a new state audit, in taking gift cards, including at least one for $250, from an old friend who had licenses at eight establishments. He has not been charged with a crime, but auditors say he could be hit with a second- or third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison on the lesser charge and one-to-15 years on the tougher one.

The big problem here is that Dorius ­— who was involved in the cases of Gary Gilmore and Hi-Fi killer Pierre Dale Selby — has been a lawyer for nearly 40 years. He, of all people, should have known better.

Hey, even we scruffy journalists have professional standards — The Salt Lake Tribune forbids accepting gifts or favors from sources or anyone else who might want to influence the newspaper. (Anything worth less than $5, such as a pen, is OK.)

I suspect Dorius is part of a culture of entitlement that has plagued the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) for what seems like forever. The disgraced former director, Dennis Kellen, had a sweetheart deal funneling contracts to his son's business, according to past audits.

This time, the auditors found that an assistant manager at one retail store was getting free meals at restaurants that hold liquor licenses in exchange for restaurant and wine reviews. Another worker asked for and got clothing from a liquor vendor.

That's despite the fact that DABC administrators included in a new ethics policy a ban on "all appearances of impropriety" and accepting any gifts or gratuities, regardless of value.

If an employee sees shady stuff, she's supposed to immediately notify her boss and the executive director. The auditors also recommended more robust training on ethics. At present, that's a work in process.

Furthermore, Kellen and Dorius were double dippers, retiring and then coming back after six months to earn as much as 170 percent of their pre-retirement salaries. Dorius resigned in March after the gift-getting got out.

As a longtime state lawyer, though, he had to have known that Utah forbids accepting gifts or other favors from a license holder even before the liquor laws were updated last year. The state's ethics laws contain similar restrictions.

Dorius could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had just told his old friend, "No." That way, the rest of us wouldn't be wondering about any other seemingly obvious conflicts of interest that might have tempted him and other DABC employees.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.