Sim Gill wants more prosecutors for case backlog. Legislature tells Salt Lake County D.A. to be more efficient.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson’s SB273 would require the Salt Lake County district attorney to document every 15 minutes staff spend on each criminal case, and report that to the Utah Legislature.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill holds a news conference in Salt Lake City, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, announcing no charges in the September 2020 police shooting of 13-year-old Linden Cameron. The Legislature wants the Salt Lake County District Attorney's office to track it's time, citing a backlog of cases.

Utah Republican lawmakers are taking aim at the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office with a bill that would require it to track time spent on cases and report to the Legislature. District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, trekked to the Capitol on Tuesday to fire back.

Layton Republican Sen. Jerry Stevenson’s bill — “District Attorney Reporting Requirements” or SB273 — would make the district attorney in a “county of the first class” document every 15 minutes staff spend on each criminal case, by type of offense, and compile that information for lawmakers. Utah code defines a county of the first class as any that has a population exceeding one million — only Salt Lake County meets that threshold.

In his three-minute presentation of the bill at Tuesdday’s Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, Stevenson described lengthy cases “that take people out of the workforce, it puts them into a situation to where everything is being looked at,” seemingly referencing prosecutions of police officers who are accused of crimes.

“We take an issue and then it continually gets pushed across and pushed across, until we wear it out. And then we say, ‘Oh, sorry, no foul,’” Stevenson said.

Nearly four years after Gill’s office charged a Salt Lake City police officer with aggravated assault, accusing him of unnecessarily ordering his K9 to attack a man during an arrest in an incident that drew national attention, a jury decided earlier this month that the officer wasn’t guilty.

Victims’ families have also criticized Gill’s office for the amount of time it spends investigating law enforcement’s actions.

Police shot and injured Linden Cameron, an autistic child whose mother called law enforcement to help respond to her son’s mental health crisis, in 2020. Two years later, Salt Lake City agreed to pay $3 million in a settlement to the family.

At the time, Gill’s office had still not decided whether to prosecute the officer who shot Cameron, a determination his parents said then was “long overdue.” The district attorney opted not to pursue charges almost a year later, in 2023.

In a rare appearance at the statehouse, Gill told committee members an annual report wasn’t necessary — “I can tell you right now what the finding is going to be.”

“The conclusion of the data would be that we don’t have sufficient resources,” Gill said. “I’m here to tell you, I agree we don’t have those sufficient resources.”

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office has 20,000 active cases, according to Gill. Gill said his office is prosecuting over 160 homicide cases, over 1,300 sexual battery cases, over 3,300 domestic violence cases and 11,000 other general felony.

Gill said his office doesn’t have enough prosecutors to move the cases through more quickly, and that the backlog has been impacted by other factors, like court scheduling and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What is the value of that information [from the annual report] once we have it?” Gill said. “Is this body then going to act upon it and fill that deficit? Is this body going to direct the counties to fill that deficit appropriately? Because I would support that effort from this body.”

Woods Cross Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, who chairs the committee, proposed amending the bill to delay the effective date by more than a year to “to allow some discussions to happen.” Everyone on the committee, including Stevenson, agreed.

When Cottonwood Heights Democrat Sen. Kathleen Riebe stood on the Senate floor Tuesday evening to question why the bill only included counties of the first class, arguing including more counties would provide “more comprehensive data,” Stevenson described the bill as a “pilot.”

Stevenson said he had heard from people in other counties saying prosecution delays are an issue there, too, but Salt Lake County “seems to be where the most egregious incidences are taking place.”

The Senate committee passed the bill and it later was approved again on the Senate floor. The only votes against it were from Democrats, all of whom represent districts in Salt Lake County, and West Valley City Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher, who is running for Salt Lake County Council.

“The lack of resources in any area could be covered by maybe a little more efficiency, and I think that’s what I’m asking,” Stevenson said in the committee meeting.

Correction Feb. 28, 3:10 p.m. · This story was corrected to reflect a jury decided that a Salt Lake City police officer accused of unnecessarily ordering his K9 to attack a man during an arrest was not guilty.