Judge won't disqualify D.A. office

Published October 24, 2007 12:58 am
Miller backer facing groping charges is rebuffed by a judge
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A 3rd District judge this week scuttled Republican leader Ozwald Balfour's efforts to disqualify the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office from prosecuting him for allegedly groping, or attempting to grope, four women.

Four sex assault cases filed against Balfour in 2005 were still unresolved last fall when he threw his support - and the free services of his two media consulting companies - to Republican district attorney candidate Lohra Miller.

Months later, defense attorney Benjamin Hamilton arranged a meeting with the new D.A. to discuss the potential dismissal of the charges, arguing there was insufficient evidence.

During the April meeting, Miller recognized Balfour's name, ended the discussion and delegated the cases to deputy prosecutor Alicia Cook, according to court documents.

Hamilton asked a judge to disqualify the entire D.A.'s office and move the cases to another county.

He pointed to Miller's January dismissal of an assault charge against a police officer - criticized as repayment for political support from police - and argued that experience would make her reluctant to resolve or dismiss his cases.

But 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton rejected that argument earlier this week, and also refused to set separate trials on each charge.

Balfour, 53, of South Jordan, is the founder of the Utah Republican Black Assembly. Miller has said that during her campaign, she was unaware of the counts against him, according to court documents.

He is charged with three second-degree felony counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of attempted forcible sexual abuse, a third-degree felony.

A Feb. 4 status hearing is set for the cases, but Hamilton said during a Monday hearing he will appeal Atherton's rulings.

During a 2006 preliminary hearing, the alleged victims characterized Balfour as a bait-and-switch artist. One woman testified Balfour came to her home in 2003 after she answered an ad about learning Web design. She said Balfour dropped his pants, began rubbing against her and tried to put his hands up her skirt.

Three other alleged victims claimed they were assaulted on Jan. 21, 2005, at Balfour's studio, International Media Services, at 340 W. Whitney Ave. (1410 South), during purported interviews for acting jobs.

One woman testified Balfour tried to get his hands under her shirt after taking her to a dark room adjoining his office. Another woman said Balfour told her, "Show me how a love scene goes," then kissed her neck and grabbed her breast. A third alleged victim said he unzipped her jacket and tried to lift her shirt.


Dismissed case against a cop cited by Balfour

Republican leader Ozwald Balfour cited a January decision by Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller in arguing to disqualify her office from prosecuting charges against him. In that case:

* Miller dismissed a charge of aggravated assault against Richard Todd Rasmussen, a Granite School District police officer who shot and wounded an unarmed suspect in 2004.

* Critics, including former D.A. David Yocom, claimed Miller dropped the case "to keep her political commitment" to law enforcement officers who supported her campaign. One of Miller's slogans was "Ask a Cop"; heading into the election, she had the support of the 700-member Fraternal Order of Police.

* Miller admitted she reviewed the case at the request of "a number of police officers" but denied her decision was political. She said the case was dropped because veteran prosecutors on her staff "believed there was less than a 50 percent chance of a conviction."

* Rasmussen told investigators he fired at Anthony Joe Chavez Jr. because the suspect lunged at him in what Rasmussen believed was an effort to take the officer's .40-caliber Glock pistol.

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