CALDWELL -- Six Canyon County lawmakers want to see a change in who handles allegations of county official misconduct and are co-sponsoring a bill that is headed to the Senate floor.
After years of accusations, criminal charges and lawsuits involving former Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak, some are referring to Senate Bill 1080 as the "Bujak bill." Bujak is accused of illegally profiting from a prosecution contract with the city of Nampa.
Purpose: To eliminate conflict of interest
Right now, co-sponsor Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, says the law requires the county's prosecutor to initially handle allegations of misconduct against all elected county officials, including the prosecutor. The bill would turn misconduct investigation authority over to the attorney general's office.
"The purpose is to eliminate a conflict of interest... that conflict of interest is the county prosecutor represents the county elected officials in their official capacity. Right now, he's also the only one who can investigate allegations of wrongdoing by a county official, including himself," Rice said.
Rice, who is a lawyer, says most prosecutors will conflict cases out to another county attorney, but with the law's current language, they wouldn't have to.
"They will sometimes not send [the claim] away, and they can kill it by just trapping it, just holding it there because there's nobody else you can go to with the complaint," Rice said. "That's kind of what happened with the Bujak situation, with the prosecution contract in Nampa. He was the only one that could investigate it. Nobody could go to the attorney general's office. The attorney general was prohibited by law, in fact, from even looking at it."
Price tag to change: $212,600
House co-sponsor, Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, says the proposed legislation would answer some of the questions he's received from constituents since Bujak resigned and was criminally charged. The bill calls for more than $200,000 to pay for an additional deputy attorney general and an investigator to handle allegations.
"After some recent events, I would say it would be absolutely worth that cost to at least make sure that we have our ethical standards being met by our prosecuting attorneys," Hixon said. "Generally, they do a very good job, and I think this is a very rare event, but at the same time, we want to make sure to have that coverage when it needs to be there."
Rice: Law changed years ago, had unintended consequences
Rice says the law has been this way for a number of years. The history, he explains, is legislators changed the law to eliminate the AG's supervisory role after a previous attorney general tried to take over a county's murder case because the county didn't want to pursue the death penalty.
"There was a legislative reaction to that, and that was to wipe out all of the supervisory authority. So that created this problem because they swung the pendulum too far," Rice said.
The bill's language explains the attorney general's office would again have oversight and allow for the office to do preliminary investigations of claims of civil or criminal law violations brought against county officials. The result would be a finding of no action necessary, prescribed training or non-judicial remedies, or finding the person should be prosecuted (either by outside county prosecutors or the deputy attorney general).
Lawmaker: Bujak case never would have happened under proposed legislation
Regarding the Bujak case, Rice believes the contract in question would never have been handled the way it was if the law had allowed for attorney general oversight and review initially.
"I happen to know that if this bill had been passed and the law was what we want to make it, the county clerk would have gone to the AG's office, and I think it would have put a stop to the whole thing," Rice said.
Bujak has not been convicted of any crimes related to the accusations of improperly profiting from a prosecution contract. His next trial begins Monday.
To read Senate Bill 1080 in full, click here.