Top Democratic lawyer to defend Republican county mayor

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    SALT LAKE CITY – Beleaguered Republican Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman, charged with felony counts of misusing public funds, has turned to an unlikely source for her defense.

    She has hired Greg Skordas, one of the state’s most recognizable attorneys _ and a Democrat _ to defend her.

    Not only is Skordas the Democratic candidate for Utah Attorney General, he’s also a former chief deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney, the office that is prosecuting Workman. Skordas also gained national exposure as Elizabeth Smart’s attorney.

    Skordas said his former position as a top aide to District Attorney David Yocom, another Democrat, would have no bearing when it comes to his private practice.

    “I do cases against the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office every day,” he said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have much of a practice.”

    Workman, the mayor of Utah’s most populous county, was charged Tuesday with two felonies for allegedly using public money to hire an employee to work for her daughter at a private, nonprofit group.

    Last week, a bipartisan panel of four prosecutors from neighboring counties said they had found “sufficient credible evidence” to charge Workman with misusing $17,000 in taxpayer funds.

    Workman has acknowledged using Health Department money to hire a bookkeeper for the Boys and Girls Club, where her daughter is a chief financial officer, but has said she did nothing criminal because it was the right thing “to help those kids.”

    The charges include a second-degree felony which carries between one and 15 years in prison and a third-degree charge which carries zero to five years.

    Yocom, who has clashed with Workman, turned over the investigation to the panel, which found charges against the mayor warranted, but left to Yocom the decision on whether to prosecute.

    Workman, formerly represented by attorney Ron Yengich, called Skordas on Tuesday after Yocom filed charges and the Salt Lake County Council placed her on administrative leave. Yengich on Wednesday referred calls to Skordas.

    “We met and talked about concerns, and I think we are really on the same page,” Skordas said of why she decided to hire him. She didn’t return a call left at her home Wednesday.

    When the probe was announced, Workman at first claimed Yocom was playing politics since she is running for re-election in November. She later backed off that claim, but again asserted Yocom was practicing partisan politics last week when the panel’s findings were announced.

    Skordas, however, said he believed Yocom did “a pretty stand-up” job by referring the investigation to an outside panel of county attorneys.

    “He distanced himself, politically, I thought, and tried to be as fair as possible,” Skordas said.

    He declined to elaborate on his strategy to defend Workman, only saying, “ultimately, a jury will decide what the facts are.”

    Workman has so far resisted calls to step away from the race. She’s facing Democrat Peter Corroon and independent Merrill Cook.

    The chairman of the Utah Democratic Party says while the case is high profile, he worries that it will distract Skordas from his campaign for attorney general against incumbent Republican Mark Shurtleff and Libertarian Andrew McCullough.

    “I think this obviously is taking attention away from the campaign and talking about issues, and I think what Workman has done or hasn’t done needs to be decided,” Donald Dunn said.

    Asked about the potential affect on his campaign, Skordas said, “I don’t want to think of the case that way.”

    Neither Yocom nor Utah Republican Party Chairman Joe Cannon returned phone calls seeking comment.

    Salt Lake County has a population of about 925,000 and includes Salt Lake City.

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