Iron County Attorney candidates Burns, Dotson facing off in primary

L-R: Iron County Attorney candidates Scott Burns and Chad Dotson participate in a candidate forum at Cedar North Elementary, Cedar City, Utah, May 31, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

IRON COUNTY — The GOP primary for Iron County Attorney is an important race, as the winner advances to November’s general election uncontested.

Scott Burns, who completed the last of his four terms as Iron County Attorney two decades ago, is facing Chad Dotson, who has been a deputy county attorney for the past two years under outgoing Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett. After initially filing to run for a fifth four-year term, Garrett bowed out of the race and endorsed Dotson.

Read more: Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett ends re-election bid; GOP delegates nominate county candidates

At the April 14 GOP county convention, Dotson received 141 delegate votes out of the 213 ballots cast, but still has to face Burns in a primary, as Burns had gathered the 476 voter signatures needed to appear on the ballot.

L-R: Iron County Attorney candidates Scott Burns and Chad Dotson participate in a candidate forum at Cedar North Elementary, Cedar City, Utah, May 31, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Dotson graduated from Southern Utah University in 2011 and later served in Iraq with the Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 222nd Field Artillery. After graduating from law school in South Dakota in 2015, Dotson went to work for the Iron County Attorney’s Office in early 2016.

Burns held the Iron County Attorney post for 16 years before leaving Utah to take a job with White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the George W. Bush administration. Burns returned to practice law in the Cedar City area four years ago.

“When I came home in 2014, the last thing on my mind was to run for county attorney again,” Burns said Thursday night during a candidate debate held at Cedar North Elementary.

During the public event, moderated by independent journalist Tracie Sullivan, the candidates answered questions on a variety of topics, including the reportedly high percentage of cases in Iron County that end in a plea bargain or are otherwise adjudicated without going to trial.

“Two jury trials last year? That’s unhealthy. That’s justice denied,” Burns said. “Jurors need to decide cases. I’m not afraid to go to court.”

But Dotson countered by saying an overwhelming percentage — as high as 97 percent — of all criminal cases statewide and nationwide are resolved without a jury trial, not just in Iron County.

“We can’t force them to go to trial,” Dotson said. “That’s just the way the system works.”

Both Dotson and Burns said they would be in favor of a citizen’s review board to provide feedback and oversight.

“I’m all in favor of community involvement,” Dotson said.

Burns said he’d also push for a more interactive website and invite the public to attend courtroom sessions regularly.

“We’re way behind. We need to start being proactive and not reactive,” Burns said, adding that if elected, he would make sure his office is open and accessible. “I will meet with the public. I will be the county attorney.”

Both candidates also said they oppose efforts to legalize medical marijuana in Utah. The issue is slated to appear before voters as a ballot initiative in the November general election.

Read more: Voters could be deciding factor for medical marijuana, Medicaid expansion, other ballot initiatives

Burns said he is also opposed to Utah’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, passed by lawmakers in 2015, which reduces penalties and sets new sentencing guidelines for certain drug crimes.

Burns said the JRI has contributed to increases in juvenile addiction and overdose deaths.

“We’ve got dead kids,” Burns said. “Shame on us for not taking on drugs. We can do better.”

Dotson, who specializes in handling drug court cases for Iron County Attorney’s Office, said although he supports diverting low-level drug offenders to alternative treatment programs, more work remains to be done. “Certainly, reforms are needed,” he said.

L-R: Iron County Attorney candidates Scott Burns and Chad Dotson participate in a candidate forum at Cedar North Elementary, Cedar City, Utah, May 31, 2018 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Dotson, who is running in his first election, said he has the endorsement of many local law enforcement personnel.

“I am supported by the majority of law enforcement officers in the county who have confidence that I can handle their most difficult cases,” Dotson told Cedar City News afterward. “I have been working in the criminal justice system for over eight years and I also believe I bring leadership to the table.”

“I believe I have the right experience to be county attorney as I have prosecuted several hundred felony cases. I have gotten convictions on first degree felonies in front of a jury and am currently a prosecutor on an aggravated murder case,” Dotson said.

Burns, however, said he sees himself as being the more highly qualified candidate for the county attorney job, adding that he would like to see Dotson retain his current position.

“I think he (Dotson) would do an excellent job as my deputy for the next four years,” Burns told those in the audience.

Another public forum featuring the candidates for Iron County Attorney and other county-level races is scheduled for June 6 at 6 p.m. at Southern Utah University’s Leavitt Center. A half-hour meet-and-greet session with the candidates will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Registered Republican voters in Iron County should start receiving their primary election ballots in the mail next week. They are due back by June 26.

Email: jrichards@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

 

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