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Summit County Attorney's Office selects 1st Returnship program candidate


Earlier this year, the Summit County Attorney’s office put out a recruitment notice to attorneys who are no longer working as attorneys – or whose licenses have expired - to apply for a new training opportunity to get back into the workforce.

The program is called "returnship." Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson says she’s been running a similar program with a different name, but earlier this year, Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson
introduced the program statewide and Olson jumped on board.

“When we saw the Lieutenant Governor articulating it with a name and a formal program, we decided to advertise and recruit for another returnship opportunity. Returnship is for a person who already is experienced and has a great deal of judgment and education in a field, but who's been out of the workforce for whatever reason. One of the reasons for lieutenant governor's Henderson's initiative was COVID, and how many people were displaced through the COVID epidemic.”

She says the county only received a few applicants, but attorney Christie Babalis stood out. Babalis has had a successful career in the corporate world, working as in-house counsel for corporations big and small, public and private. She says she left her last job right around when COVID hit.

“And as I was thinking about what I wanted to do next,” Babalis said. “I thought, gosh, is it even possible for me to just completely change gears and try a whole new different area of law and how would I do that at this point in my career, how would I, for example, start to learn how to be a litigator. I've never been a litigator before, I've always been a corporate, transactional or employment based or licensing based attorney. And so, when this opportunity came up, I thought, oh, this is an amazing opportunity to spend a little time trying to learn something totally new.”

Olson says it’s up to Babalis to decide what she wants to do and how many hours to put into the unpaid position. But there’s plenty of work to be done in the office.

“At the Civil Division of our office has 100 different practice areas,” Olson said. “The Criminal Division, of course, provides a lot of opportunity for trial experience and you know, heavy analysis into those legal issues and so Christie will be self-directing and determining where she wants to use her opportunity to learn.”

Babalis says she has sat in on many of the county attorney meetings for the different divisions and is interested in the Children’s Justice Center and litigation – which is something she’s never done.

Olson is excited to see what happens.

“I am excited as Christy's colleague and friend to see what direction she chooses to take,” Olson said. Here is a person who's lived in our community for decades, who has children in the school system who's highly invested in our community, and I think she's got a tremendous amount to contribute. And I want to be a part of that and help her develop and pivot the same way that I pivoted five years ago when I changed out of private practice and into government work. Very exciting. And I just think the world of Christie and can't wait to see what she does next.”

Meanwhile, Olson says she has received the last of the GRAMA documents for her investigation into the Park City School District. The investigation is examining what happened when the district failed to enforce the county’s mask mandate after the numbers of COVID-19 cases at Parley’s Park Elementary School went above the 2% threshold, triggering the mandate. She said her office has hired a contract investigator to sort through all of the documents. She’s compiling the results and expects to have her decision posted on the county’s website within the first couple of weeks in the new year.

Corrected: December 31, 2021 at 12:55 PM MST
An earlier version of this report misspelled Lt. Gov Deidre Henderson's name.