Victim Advocate Charged With Misusing Public Monies Asking For Venue Change
The attorney for a former Summit County victim’s advocate, charge with misusing public monies, is asking for the case to be moved to another venue in Salt Lake County.
Defense Attorney Gail Laser made her arguments in Third District Court Monday, with the prosecutor, from the Utah Attorney general’s office, agreeing to the request.
Judge Patrick Corum said he will take the arguments under advisement and rule on Thursday.
Charges were filed last month against 62-year-old Marsha Probst, a Midway resident, alleging that on behalf of the county, she regularly received checks sent to the Victims Assistance Program from a Park City non-profit, Wasatch Womenade. The charges say Probst used the donations to establish a credit union account, soley in her name and control.
Laser entered a Not Guilty Plea for her client last month. And as part of her Change of Venue request, Las has detailed some elements of her defense—for one thing, asserting that the Womenade group hasn’t complained about what happened to the donations.
In court Monday, Laser made her second attempt to convince the judge, after her written motion was turned down last month. She said she was not judge shopping and would be satisfied with Judge Corum still hearing the case, just in Salt Lake. She said there were several factors in favor of moving the venue for her client.
“Miss Probst was a long-time employee here. She’s a 62-year-old woman with no prior-record. There’s some very personal reasons for her not wanting to appear in the very place where she worked for so long; with the colleagues that are still present in the courthouse.”
Laser wrote in her motion that in the 11 and a half years with the county, in that very courthouse, Probst worked tirelessly to provide assistance and comfort to victims of homicides, domestic violence, and sex crimes. Now, she contended, it would add an element of humiliation for Probst to face the charges before her friends and colleagues. The attorney said Probst is a prominent community member, with four adult children who live in this area.
She said that another substantial reason for changing venues is that the prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney General Craig Peterson, also agrees. Peterson explained why to the court.
“I’m going to call the county attorney, the prior county attorney, the county treasurer, the director of human resources, the current victim advocate, and the past victim advocate from the county to testify. What we’re talking about is the practicality of sitting a jury with that many elected officials being called as witnesses. My basis for stipulating was I was going to run into less conflict on that issue in Salt Lake, than I would in here in Summit County. And again, I told Miss Laser I’m not advocating for or against. But having been to the jury portion of this, and maybe that’s the time, we see if we can sit a jury and if we can’t then it gets move. But that’s why the State stipulated to this motion is because we see a very practical issue when it comes to sitting a jury.”
Judge Corum said while he normally doesn’t turn down a motion acceptable to both sides, he is hesitant to approve it in this case.
“I’m sure everybody in this courtroom would prefer not to be here today. To be in front of their peers and in front of the court facing criminal charges. Some on some very embarrassing matters and things that they would not like discussed in public. I’m very sensitive to your clients needs and the special circumstances in this case. In my experience I’ve been part of courts where police officers, or bailiffs, or court personnel have been charged with crimes and they go through the process in the courtroom that its venue is appropriate.”
In a previous written ruling, turning down the venue change, the judge said he was confident that Probst’s previous employment in Summit County would have no influence on how the Court or courtroom staff would handle the case. And the defense had not presented any specific evidence of local prejudice or bias.
He added that since county residents are the alleged victims in this case and the allegations could affect their confidence in the local justice system, they have an important interest in having the matter tried locally.
But replying to that, attorney Laser has written that the alleged mishandled monies were not just Summit County’s. She said that the Womenade program donated to the victim’s program for both Summit and Wasatch Counties. Laser says Womenade made that choice deliberately to avoid red tape delays, and possibly to make sure the funds went directly to victim beneficiaries.
Laser added that her client is exploring a challenge on whether the case should even proceed at all.
At Monday’s hearing, Judge Corum said he will render a decision at a telephone conference Thursday.