The Mysterious Mr. Smith 

Brad Smith's ascent leaves behind questions

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When Kathy Anderson* picked up her 14-year-old daughter from school near Perry, Utah, unexpectedly early on Jan. 8, 2007, she bought her a milkshake, then drove her to the Children’s Justice Center in Logan.

The Thursday before, Kathy had received a call from the Box Elder County’s victim advocate requesting a meeting concerning her ex-husband Bruce T. Jeppesen and one of her daughters. The advocate declined to go into further details.

That night, Kathy asked her two daughters if their former stepfather had ever touched them. The youngest said, “No mommy, he never touched me.” All the oldest, Tina*, said, was an angry “No.” Kathy later told 1st District Court Judge Ben Hadfield, “Call it mother’s intuition, the Holy Ghost or whatever you want, I knew something was wrong.”

At a meeting the next day with the Box Elder victim advocate and a local detective, she learned that Jeppesen had confessed to having “multiple sexual-intercourse incidents,” with Tina, then 12, during the fall of 2005, according to a police report.

That wasn’t all a distraught Kathy learned. The judge had agreed to a plea deal negotiated between Jeppesen’s defense attorney, John Hutchison, and the Box Elder deputy county attorney, Brad C. Smith. That deal meant 51-year-old Jeppesen would get six years’ probation and no jail or prison time. Surprised that the victim had not been notified of the deal as required by Utah statute and the Victims Rights Act, Judge Hadfield’s only caveat to the plea deal was that the victim had to be told, adding that her input could still affect the case.

On the way to the Children’s Justice Center on Jan. 8, 2007, Kathy revealed to Tina that both she and the authorities knew about Jeppesen’s sexual abuse. That ride, she told the court, “was far from enjoyable.”

Attempts by City Weekly to contact “Kathy” and “Tina” were unsuccessful. All quotes or information relating to them was taken from public documents and court recordings.

Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic’s Heidi Nestel, who eventually represented Tina, argued in court pleadings that the plea deal effectively led to Tina being “re-victimized by a system which was supposed to protect her rights, but instead failed to even address her rights.” She later wrote, “Rarely, if ever, does an adult rapist of a 12-year-old girl never spend one day in jail or prison—yet, this was the known agreement at the time of plea.”

By the time Jeppesen was sentenced on two second-degree felony counts of child sexual abuse on Jan. 8, 2008, Smith had been replaced by Deputy Attorney General Kristine Knowlton, called in by Box Elder County to take over the case because of concerns among various agencies about its irregularities. She told the court that Jeppesen’s confession, supposedly an act of contrition, was “cloaked in secrecy and deception, and as a result of that, the damage to the victim and her family has been extraordinary. It is as if someone lobbed a grenade into the [Anderson] household, blew up the victim” and her mother and sister.

Nowadays, Smith is a long way from that explosion, not only in time but also profession. He’s currently the superintendent of the Ogden School District, where, without a background in teaching, education or an administrative license, he nevertheless oversees 12,700 children, 2,200 employees and a $130 million annual budget.

In his superintendent’s office, 46-year-old Smith cautions that it’s easy to go back over a prosecutor’s cases, select a couple and pick them apart. If Tina Anderson’s rights were violated, “I certainly didn’t intend that,” he says. Smith argues that a prosecutor’s most important asset is his word, which he gave Hutchison and Jeppesen when he promised Jeppesen immunity from prosecution in exchange for his confession, a polygraph, a psycho-sexual evaluation and, most important of all, his name. That was the only way, Smith says, he could get Jeppesen into the system.

Nevertheless, Utah law requires that the Department of Child & Family Services and law enforcement are informed of any allegation of child abuse so an investigation can take place. Smith did not do this. “At the time, it was not obvious to me [that I needed to contact DCFS],” he says. His perception, he says, was that “I was law enforcement.” Knowlton disagreed in a pleading, arguing that, “It is clear from the mandatory-reporting statute that the term ‘law enforcement’ pertains to the investigative agencies in the state and not the prosecuting agents.”

In an April 4, 2007, motion to get the original Jeppesen plea deal set aside, Knowlton wrote that there were “grounds to believe that the conduct and judgment of [Smith] constituted a serious abuse of prosecutorial discretion, breach of ethical duties and may very well constitute a criminal offense.”

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Smith describes himself as a “fat, white, middle-age Mormon Republican lawyer with all of the baggage that entails.” Colleagues, both past and former, along with prosecutors and defense attorneys City Weekly spoke to, describe him as loyal, personable and possessing a sharp intellect and recall.

While Smith has found himself in some questionable situations, he seemingly always emerges unscathed. Along with Jeppesen’s defense attorney, Smith was the author of a plea deal that not only ignored the rights of a child victim of sexual abuse but seemingly circumvented the law. He was a beneficiary of an unwritten $150-an-hour verbal contract that, according to City Weekly’s audit of his firm’s billings, accessed via a record request to Box Elder County, saw his firm bill $850,541 over five years. Even when a board Smith had been a member of for several years voted him to be Ogden’s new school district superintendent despite his lack of educational experience, the resulting outcry was no more than a hiccup in his ascendancy to power.

Smith is not a man for whom the past holds much allure. Ever the pragmatist, he focuses only on the task at hand. His family seems to recognize that. Last Christmas, they gave him a piece of wood displaying a line of dialogue from the remake of True Grit. Sitting proudly on top of a cabinet in his office, it reads: “‘I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world as it is, is vexing enough.’”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE
For the past 15 years, Smith has made Ogden—“an industrial town on the decline,” he says—both his home and his workplace. Twenty miles farther north lies the picturesque small town of Brigham City, famed for its peaches and the LDS tabernacle that dominates Main Street. In the early 2000s, the wide expanses of rural farmland lost some of their bucolic charm as an epidemic of methamphetamine production and usage took hold, Smith recalls.

When prosecutor-turned-defense-attorney Amy Hugie, then 27, was elected as county attorney to Box Elder County—population 45,000—she wanted to turn what she calls a then part time office into a full time one. But Hugie couldn’t find a local attorney willing to take on the $40,000-$45,000-a-year position of deputy county attorney. Cities and municipalities may contract prosecutors, but it is very rare for counties to do so, opine local prosecutors. Nevertheless, at the recommendation of another attorney, Hugie says, she hired Ogden-based firm Stevenson & Smith to handle her office’s burgeoning felonies, fueled by a recent and dramatic upswing in drug-related crimes.

Hugie took on civil cases, and deputy county attorney Kevin McGaha handled the juvenile and justice-court cases. “I needed somebody to go to trial,” Hugie says. “I didn’t have any qualms at all about hiring [Stevenson & Smith]. I didn’t want somebody timid; I wanted somebody who could walk into court and get the job done.”

Not that Smith & Stevenson were notable players in criminal law at that point. It was “very much a civil-litigation firm,” Hugie says. But what appealed to Smith about the one-day-a-week, law and motion hearings contract, which was initially worth an annual $45,700, was that he wanted “experience as a jury-trial attorney.”

A COLD CEMENT FLOOR
In April 2006, Stephen Hadfield, a cousin of Judge Hadfield and “the old guard of the county’s candidate of choice,” Smith says, successfully ran against Hugie, campaigning partly, Hugie ruefully recalls, on her use of contract, out-of-town prosecutors.

Several months later, then soon-to- retire Ogden attorney John Hutchison came to Smith with an anonymous client wanting to confess to child sexual abuse.

Bruce Jeppesen divorced Kathy Anderson in August 2006 after a 3 1/2-year marriage. Jeppesen was prominent in the local LDS ward, having been asked by the stake president to be an elders quorum president, which meant teaching the men in the ward their duties as husbands and fathers. That position, Anderson noted acidly in her statement to Judge Hadfield, came at the same time as he was raping her daughter on a cold cement floor in their basement.

Tina Anderson’s attorney, Heidi Nestel, noted in an April 2007 motion that Jeppesen disclosed his sexual abuse of his then-stepdaughter at a time that coincided “exactly with the finalization of his divorce to [Tina’s] mother.” Nestel speculated that Jeppesen was concerned that Tina would reveal his abuse once he was out of the house. By revealing himself only once he got the deal he wanted, Jeppesen could effectively dictate the terms of the plea bargain.

But in a prison interview with City Weekly, Jeppesen says it was guilt that drove him to come clean. “I felt terrible about what I had done. It was my own personal, spiritual guilt.”

According to an Aug. 31, 2006, letter from Smith to Hutchison, after reviewing the case with Hugie and his partner, Tom Stevenson, and reading an anonymous affidavit provided by Hutchison under the promise of immunity, Smith needed more information, including the age, he wrote, “of the ‘victim.’ Obviously, if the victim is 10 or 11 years old, the case is significantly different [than] if the victim is 15 or 16 years old.” Smith wrote that he based his deal on the assumption the victim was 15 or 16. Hutchison responded in a letter, cited by Knowlton in a pleading, that he had contacted Smith’s secretary “and told her that the girl was ‘13 going on 21.’ ”

Jeppesen’s affidavit, Knowlton noted in a later motion, “placed the blame and responsibility on the minor child for all of the incidents of the various types of sexual abuse and portrayed himself as the victim.”

Smith had the anonymous defendant take a polygraph to ensure there were no other victims, and a psychosexual evaluation to assess if he were a pedophile or a predator. Knowlton noted in a pleading she was unaware of any test that would demonstrate that. Smith says, however, “Those who do such tests say they are” effective in measuring such tendencies.

Smith agreed to no prison or jail time, 72 months’ probation and therapy in exchange for Jeppesen’s confession and name. No mention was made in the agreement of restitution to the victim. Hutchison poorly redacted Jeppesen’s name, however, and Smith learned his identity before the plea deal was inked.

But, Smith says, “When I had his name, he was protected” by Smith’s promise of immunity. “My instinct was to try to do something to prosecute it. To never have it revealed at all was not an acceptable outcome. If I got it wrong, it was not because I wanted to be soft on a pedophilic sex offender.”

But without a police or DCFS investigation, let alone the victim’s testimony, all Smith had go on that Jeppesen was telling the truth about the nature and extent of the abuse was Jeppesen’s own word.

Where, Knowlton wrote, a “prosecutor is relying solely upon the statement of the defendant […] for the factual basis, with no independent investigation or input from the victim,” then she concluded “the role of the prosecutor as a ‘minister of justice’ has been compromised.”

On Dec. 18, 2006, Judge Hadfield, after learning the victim hadn’t been notified of the charges or the plea deal, ruled he would accept the agreement “subject to the possible input from the victim or her custodial parent.”

TOO SCARED TO TELL
Two weeks later, the county had not yet contacted the mother and the victim. Then, on Jan. 2, 2007, an anonymous tipster told the Department of Child & Family Services that Jeppesen had molested his former stepdaughter. DCFS then contacted the Brigham City Police Department.

In a subsequent police report by then Cpl. Jeff Johnson, he pointed out that although Smith knew who the molester was, he did not inform “DCFS as required by law. Law enforcement was also not notified. The victim’s rights to be heard and represented in this case by DCFS, the guardian-ad-litem’s office or any other legal representation was ignored.”

When Johnson called Smith to discuss what he called in the police report “the twisted plea deal,” the attorney said, according to Johnson’s report, that the plea bargain was “ ‘ironclad’ and ‘a done deal,’ and would not discuss any other outcomes.” But after Johnson explained he had discussed with DCFS “repercussions against DCA Smith for not reporting to DCFS,” Smith agreed to talk to Hutchison about a new sentencing date.

The victim eventually gave a written statement in which she stated that Jeppesen and she had had sex 15 times, “more incidents than accounted for by the defendant in his affidavit,” Knowlton wrote in a pleading. Tina’s version of events was “far different” from Jeppesen’s affidavit. She described in her statement that she was playing a video game in the basement when the first incident took place, resulting in sexual intercourse. Jeppesen told her, she reported, “Don’t tell because I will get in big trouble and tell that person it was your fault.”

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Tina herself wrote, “I never told because I was so scared he would find out and hurt me.” While she added that her physical scars would heal, “my emotional scars will never heal.”

LIPS OF A MOLESTER
The next month, newly sworn-in Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield formerly requested that the attorney general take over the prosecution. Smith, Hadfield wrote in a February 2007 letter, “has offered and agreed to continue prosecuting the matter to its conclusion.” However, in part because of concerns raised by agencies such as the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic, Hadfield preferred an external agency.

Assistant Attorney General Knowlton got the plea deal quashed, and Jeppesen was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 15 years in the Utah State Prison. At Jeppesen’s sentencing, Knowlton essayed a disturbing portrait of a man who still saw his victim as sexually curious and overly affectionate, who supposedly solicited sex from him. Jeppesen had a lengthy history “of blaming females for his sexualized behavior.” He only reported his abuse “in a manner to avoid investigation,” she concluded.

In Kathy Anderson’s tear-soaked, 20-minute statement to Judge Hadfield, she said because of Jeppesen, there was now a wall between her youngest daughter and the oldest. In the future, she predicted, they would not share sisterly secrets, “such as experiencing a first kiss, the one that was taken from her older sister by the lips of a molester.”

Judge Hadfield wanted the parole board to recognize two things. One, that the case would not have come to light if Jeppesen had not come forward, the other that it involved sexual intercourse with a child.

“I am the most terrible person in the world; what I did was unforgivable,” Jeppesen says. “That’s why I hired an attorney to protect myself.” His next parole hearing is in September.

UNJUST PUNISHMENT
Smith says that finally justice was served. “The plea deal [I gave Jeppesen] ultimately allowed a different agency to come in, prosecute him, obtain a substantially more severe sentence and that’s absolutely right and proper.”

That’s not how others see it, though.

Brigham City Police Department chief Paul Titterson expresses regret that subordinate officers at the time his department discovered the plea deal did not inform him about the case. He says the plea deal was “absolutely surprising,” after City Weekly brought it to his attention, describing the no-jail-time offer Smith agreed to as “offensive, frankly.” The deal “looks like it’s underhanded, that they’re trying to cover something up. It’s an absolutely unjust punishment.”

Failure to report child abuse is a class B misdemeanor. On Feb. 20, 2007, as reported in the Deseret News, former Duchesne county prosecutor Roland Uresk agreed to a plea in abeyance after the Attorney General’s Office charged him with failing to report allegations of child abuse. Smith, on the other hand, faced no such repercussions.

City Weekly’s request for an interview with Scott Reed, the head of the Attorney General Office’s criminal division, was denied. The Attorney General’s Office currently refuses to comment on any City Weekly story.

THE COST OF JUSTICE
If the legal arguments surrounding Jeppesen’s plea deal are murky, the financial arrangements between Box Elder County and Smith and his firm are equally unorthodox, resulting in a tiny county paying out $850,541 to an out-of-town law firm without a written contract.

Stevenson & Smith had a contract with Box Elder to handle criminal cases from 2003 until the end of 2006, when Hugie left office. Smith, however, in January 2005, was brought on as an “appointed” full-time deputy county attorney. That means, explains Peggy Ramsden, head of Box Elder County’s Human Resources, that he had “no time card, he worked at the discretion of the elected official.”

Perhaps the most curious aspect of Smith’s financial dealings with Box Elder, though, was a verbal agreement with county commissioners that his firm would be paid $150 an hour for work outside the once-a-week law and motion criminal hearings.

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Smith was lead prosecutor and then second chair on two capital cases involving the 1984 murder of 17-year-old Brad Perry. First Glen Howard Griffin, who was convicted in 2008, then Wade Garrett Maughan, who was found not guilty, stood trial for Perry’s murder. Under that verbal contract, Hadfield had Smith prosecute Griffin and then aide him on Maughan’s 2010 prosecution.

Troy Rawlings is Davis County prosecutor and head of the Utah Indigent Defense Fund, which dispenses funds to defense attorneys in capital cases. In April 2008, Rawlings e-mailed the Box Elder County commissioners, expressing concerns relating to “the astronomical costs associated with the prosecution” of the Griffin and Maughan cases, leading to the defense teams requesting “significant increases in money from our fund/board in order to deal with the prosecution on an even playing field and adequately represent their clients interests.”

Hadfield came to a robust defense of his use of the contract lawyers, describing their legal representation of the county as “of high quality.” Rather than “private” prosecutors, they were “valued members of my office,” he wrote.

City Weekly made a records’ request to Box Elder for all of Stevenson & Smith’s billings. That request revealed that between 2003 and 2010, the rural county had spent $1.12 million with Smith’s law firm, of which at least $166,475 related to the firm’s contract. Stevenson & Smith billed Box Elder $850,541 for the Griffin and Maughan prosecutions.

“I was very pleased with the way Brad handled the Griffin matter,” Stephen Hadfield says. He pointed to postponements that led the cases to reach trial several years later than expected as partly why costs had escalated. “I know there have been criticisms as far as the money, but I would do it again,” he says. “That was a very important case to the community.”

“WHAT WERE WE NEGOTIATING?”
Not everything Smith touches turns to gold. In 2009, he resigned from his position on the 2nd District Judicial Nominating Commission, which selects judges for the 2nd District, to apply for a judgeship. Being a judge is a longtime ambition of Smith’s, who says he is “not terribly ideological; I respect rules, recognize rules. They are there for a reason—to help us administer justice.” He made the final 10 to 15 before being cut. “The story of my life,” he jokes.

He fared far better with his rise from Ogden school system board member to superintendent.

Smith joined the Ogden school board in January 2007. Noel Zabriskie, who was the superintendent from 2006 to 2011, came to the position with eight years of teaching experience and 31 years as an assistant principal and principal of several high schools. Education, he says, “has been my career.”

Zabriskie says Smith focused on financial issues, coming on while the board was dealing with a $95.3 million bond. Smith chaired a finance subcommittee, which oversaw contracts and school construction.

In the summer of 2011, Smith was a vocal presence in the media, defending the board’s sign-or-resign contract offer to teachers. Today, he still expresses deep frustration at a situation in which board representatives and a negotiating team for the Ogden Education Authority, which represents the vast majority of Ogden’s teachers, were still haggling over the contract for 2010-11 in May 2011. “What were we negotiating?” Smith asks. “That struck me as the most awkward, foolish, stupid situation.”

“WHO’S BRAD SMITH?”
In the wake of Zabriskie’s sudden decision to step down for family reasons, Smith says he didn’t have a choice. Zabriskie’s closed-session announcement to the board came in late August, a time in the educational calendar when hiring another superintendent was problematic. Smith felt that bringing in an interim superintendent was unacceptable. “Given where the distrust was [over the contracts’ negotiation], we couldn’t hire a lame duck. That struck me as an extremely bad idea. Our district is in crisis.”

He had been very vocal in his criticism, he acknowledges. “I had better be willing to put my money where my mouth is,” he recalls thinking. While he had never run a school district before or taught, let alone administered such a large enterprise, “I have a reasonably high opinion of my own abilities,” he says dryly, “and hope I am honest enough to admit if my own assessment might run ahead of those abilities.” He had qualms, he admits, but “I believed in my heart I could make a difference.”

Smith asked Zabriskie what he thought about Smith’s inclination to put his name forward for the position. Zabriskie told Smith his reaction was twofold. Smith’s aptness for studying, intelligence and articulateness suggested “an opportunity for success.” But Smith also faced a significant learning curve relating to how education had evolved over the past 40 years.

After a closed-session discussion, 10 days after Zabriskie’s resignation, the board voted to elect Smith to the $120,000-a-year post.

The speed of Smith’s election, not to mention his lack of experience or qualifications, was a shock to many. Cal Udy is labor-relations representative for the Utah affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. He says “Who’s Brad Smith?” was his reaction. “There was no public forum, no input from teachers or the public, no attempt to find the best candidate for the position even within the district,” he says. “This should have been done in the sunlight.”

People felt they hadn’t been able to buy into the decision, Smith says. But that, he adds, is part of the problem. Because so many had their say in the school district’s business, being “a board member was like trying to turn a battleship with a paddle.”

Faced with a school district that has the lowest high school graduation rate in the state, Smith shook things up not only by moving administrative staff around, but also committing to a 90 percent graduation rate by summer 2014. “I make no apology for being the harbinger of pain that change entails,” he says. Every child “I can pull across the high school stage at graduation, we’re substantially increasing the odds that that child will not be a victim of poverty.”

This approach, however, has its critics. Some argue, Zabriskie says, that the only way Smith can achieve his target “is by dumbing down” standards, something that the board is keen “not to be accused of doing,” the ex-superintendent says.

In a February 2012-published list of guarantees to students and others by Smith and his subordinates, they state, “We will not use poverty, race, funding, morale or prior history to excuse things within our control. […] We know that history is not destiny.” Smith says he is responsible for “those kids graduating. I feel the concern internally.” He will leave, he says, when he’s no longer needed.

NO LOOKING BACK
Smith says he has no political ambitions, but rather wishes, one day, to return to the law. “I’m not a very abstract person in some respects. I like to be pragmatic and concrete.”

Not that he has entirely relinquished his legal practice. He and Amy Hugie—his former boss who later worked for his firm as an independent contractor and became a partner in 2011—represented disgraced former Morgan County Council administrator Garth Day in his October 2011 sentencing. Smith says it’s only one of two hearings he’s handled since he took a “limited walk away from my practice.”

In an echo of Jeppesen’s attempt to turn himself in, Smith—this time acting as a defense attorney rather than prosecutor—told federal court Judge Dee Benson that Day had voluntarily confessed to embezzling nearly $1 million of taxpayers’ money, requesting that the attorney contact the authorities. A prosecutor, however, labeled such claims by Day as an attempt to avoid prison when he realized his misdeeds were about to be exposed. Benson called Day a “typical con artist,” and sent him to federal prison for 48 months.

Looking back over Smith’s past nine years, he seems like a force of nature, tirelessly striding ahead while brushing off with the slightest shrug any questions that linger in his wake.

Smith’s position is simple: When it comes to the past, he says, people can always render criticism after the fact. “I move forward, and I do not look back,” he says. “I am not going to waste my time second-guessing myself.”

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