Election 2018: Grand County Attorney

By Doug McMurdo and Sena Taylor Hauer• The Times-Independent

As a lead-up to the greneral election in November, The Times-Independent will be presenting a three-part series on the three local contested elections for the positions of Grand County Attorney, school board and county council. This first installment highlights the election campaigns of Grand County Attorney candidates Christina Sloan and Stephen Stocks. Board of Education candidates Kathy Williams and Ryan Anderson will be profiled in the Oct. 4 edition, and the Grand County Council at-large platforms of incumbent Mary McGann and challenger Norm Knapp will be published Oct. 11.

There are a number of potential constitutional amendments, propositions and advisory questions on the Nov. 6 ballot. For a refresher, read The Times-Independent’s previously published story, in the Sep. 13th issue, posted online atwww.moabtimes.com, “on the ballot.” Ballots will be mailed out Oct. 16 and must be postmarked by 5 p.m. on Nov. 5 or turned into the Grand County Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 to be valid. Individuals who wish to register by mail must send in their voter registration no later than Oct. 9, while Oct. 30 is the last day to register online or in person at the clerk’s office.

Sloan: ‘I’m doing this because I love this community’

Eleven of the 14 years Christina Sloan has practiced law have been in Moab.

The candidate for Grand County Attorney earned her law degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Law, then practiced in Boulder for three years after graduating.

This is not Sloan’s first foray into local politics. She ran against incumbent County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald in 2010 and lost by 60 votes. Eight years later and with a thriving practice, the married mother of two has a complex reason for running again.

“Why? I’m doing this because I love this community,” she said. “People were begging me to run. We have a very successful practice, but I just believe we can help improve the office, make it more efficient. This is an act of community service.”

Sloan was the overwhelming favorite of primary voters in June, earning more than 1,070 votes, 350 more than second-place finisher Stephen Stocks, who opposes Sloan in November. Her message is simple: “People who can help, should,” she said. “So I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”

Sloan said her opponent is someone she mentored when he came back to Moab after law school a couple of years ago, and is “a good guy with a good legal mind, he’s just not ready.” Experience is important, she said. “I’m extremely efficient. I get work done,” said Sloan. “And I will shake up the structure of the county attorney’s office.”

She said she would allow to lapse current contracts with third-party prosecutors on the criminal side and civil attorneys on the county side. Sloan said she would focus on Grand County’s legal needs – the county attorney counsels the Grand County Council – and hire a deputy county attorney to act as a prosecutor with her oversight in criminal matters.

“There’s no deputy county attorney,” she said. “You’re responsible for all civil and criminal matters. Everybody thinks of the criminal side when it comes to the county attorney, but civil (law) is a huge piece of the county attorney pie.”

Sloan provided documents detailing 10 current third-party attorney contracts in Grand County that cost taxpayers a total of $194,000 a year. She believes she could hire an attorney with three to five years of experience, for about $110,000 a year in salary and benefits, as a deputy. “Then we’d have another $85,000 to help pay for depositions, witness prep, fees … I think this would exponentially improve the office,” she said.

Sloan said she would, as is custom, maintain her private practice if elected. “I do a lot of land use work, and not a lot in the county. If I have to conflict out I will and I will stop doing any work on that case.”

Sloan said the only area of civil law she is not comfortable practicing is bond work. She said one advantage a government lawyer has over those in the private sector, however, is the availability of “a lot of free resources.”

Stocks: ‘We need somone in office who is accountable’

What Stephen Stocks lacks in experience, he makes up for with passion.

So said the Grand County Attorney candidate, who faces Christina Sloan in the Nov. 6 General Election. Incumbent Andrew Fitzgerald is stepping down after two terms.

Stocks, 28, returned to Moab – where his family has resided for multiple generations – right after graduating from the Washburn School of Law in Kansas two years ago.

“I’m passionate,” he said during an interview Sept. 20. “This is something I want to do. I want to prosecute cases and be the face of the Grand County Attorney’s office.”

Stocks opened a private firm right out of law school and practices primarily criminal defense and family law.

He said his work as a criminal defense attorney led him to run for county attorney. “We need someone in that office who is accountable. When you’re constantly sending cases (to attorneys) out of Moab, you can get results that are less than ideal.”

Stocks said there is a significant amount of illicit drug use in Grand County, and along with that comes a high percentage of domestic violence incidents. “Domestic violence is a crime that escalates over time,” he said. “We need a strong response, get them treatment and address the problem. Usually you can mandate no drugs and no alcohol while they’re on probation.”

Stocks said the county could save money by hiring a deputy county attorney, preferably one with experience in the government and civil arenas. Currently, third-party contract attorneys take on much of the work required by the Grand County Council, as well as criminal defense attorneys.

He acknowledged that sometimes the county council requires the skills of an outside attorney who has subject matter expertise, “but most legal issues could be handled in-house,” he said.

“We need a deputy county attorney to handle conflicts, or even the perception of conflicts. We need at least two and we’re already contracting out two,” he said. Having a two-attorney office would also help overcome the “major problem” of victim agencies, law enforcement, and the county attorney working together.

Regarding his relative lack of experience, Stocks had this to say: “I will face new challenges every day and I’ll take it on a case-by-case basis. My youth hasn’t limited my ability to be a defense attorney. Half the battle is caring about it. I know I’ll always be learning something new. I believe it’s important to get in there and see what’s going on before making decisions. I’m willing to take cases to trial I might not win and let the jury decide the case.”