March 6, 2014

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Sim Gill

Tackling the Challenges of Public Service

By Tom Haraldsen

March 6, 2014


To say the first three-plus years of Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s term have been adventurous would be an understatement. Headlines from 2013 alone illustrate the challenges his office has faced—internal problems in the West Valley City Police Department, including potential criminal charges in the death of Danielle Willard by West Valley City narcotics detectives; and the investigation into former Utah Attorney General John Swallow’s comings and eventual goings—each of them front-page and lead-story-at-10 p.m. events. But for the Kearns High and University of Utah graduate who The Salt Lake Tribune named as its “Utahn of the Year” for 2013, it’s all part of the job.

“It’s been challenging, invigorating in terms of the opportunity it’s given this office to serve the community,” Gill says. “It takes an incredible collaborative effort, working with great partners, to do what we do. As a public servant and a prosecutor, it comes to you and you handle it the best way you can. Overall, I think the last three years have been very successful.”

Besides the Willard and Swallow cases, Gill’s office has handled a wide variety of other criminal cases, not to mention a plethora of cases on the civil side. He says, “It really is reflective of the complexity of a district attorney’s office—a public institution serving its community on a diversity of subjects.”

Gill’s calling to law and eventually public service was formed somewhat from his childhood in a small village in India. He says he witnessed a neighbor being wrongly accused of a theft, a man who was subsequently arrested and beaten. It left him questioning who watches over those assigned to protect the public’s safety—one reason he had no compunction decades later when he ruled that West Valley City cops weren’t in danger when they shot Willard. Elements of that case are still ongoing.

“For me, the public institutions and public service are an integral part of the community,” he says. “The promises of this country have always been at the forefront for me, as they were for my father. Public service has its own rewards. It is the background within which our society functions and a very unique American experience.”

Gill’s challenges as D.A. go way beyond the courtrooms and include fiscal management of an office with a $25 million budget and more than 100 attorneys; serving as legal counsel for a $1 billion corporation (Salt Lake County); and handling cases on a diverse list of societal issues, such as domestic abuse, elder abuse and drug addiction. It means working with a variety of lawyers who each have their own skill sets.

“In some respects, it’s no different than a large law firm,” Gill says. “At least within the role that I get to play, I get part and parcel of all of those different types of cases. It’s the most fulfilling role any attorney can have.”

And Gill knows what the D.A.’s office does is always scrutinized by the public.

“The expectation when we are elected is that we will do the right thing,” he says. “There’s no running away from challenges or making tough decisions—no sugar coating it. That’s where the public trust comes from—they expect you to do your job. I have a privilege to serve the county. This is not my office—I’m a temporary caretaker. So while sometimes the cases we review and the decisions we make are painful personally, professionally, you do what needs to be done.”

 

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