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Skordas thrives on challenges

2 candidates aren't afraid of taking a stand

Democratic attorney general candidate Greg Skordas sits on one of his two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Democratic attorney general candidate Greg Skordas sits on one of his two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Greg Skordas likes balance in his life, whether it's weighing work and family or balancing on two wheels, like a road-racing bike or motorcycle.

But you can keep your balance while seeking new challenges, too.

And so, after years of being encouraged to seek political office, this year Skordas finally jumped in.

He's running as a Democrat for attorney general, trying to unseat GOP AG Mark Shurtleff.

Skordas, 47, knows it won't be easy — a sitting Republican attorney general was last defeated in 1988.

But apparently not satisfied with just running for statewide office, three weeks ago Skordas also agreed to be defense co-counsel for embattled Salt Lake County GOP Mayor Nancy Workman, taking up even more of his time and confusing his Democratic supporters as well.

The first-term Republican county mayor is fighting two felony charges of misuse of public funds, charges brought by Democratic County Attorney Dave Yocom, Skordas' admitted "good friend" and his old boss.

Though trailing in the AG polls and fund raising to Shurtleff, Skordas is hopeful yet realistic.

"I've always planned to get back into being a public attorney. If it doesn't happen this time, I'll do it later," perhaps in some appointed position, says the man who once served as Yocom's chief deputy.

But if you know Skordas, friends say, you know he doesn't turn down a sincere plea for help, whether it comes from the well-known and well-heeled or an average Joe who just needs a good criminal attorney.

Former law partner Elizabeth Dunning recalls: "I've called him when personal friends or family have problems with juveniles or the criminal justice system. He's unfailing generous with his time and expertise. He never says, 'Can I get a client out of this?' or anything like that."

A friend called Dunning several months ago, she recalls, who had a relative sitting in the Salt Lake County Jail over a weekend. She didn't worry about what to do. She just dialed Skordas. "He didn't know these people; he went down on a weekend to help get the person out. That's Greg."

But, she adds, unlike many successful criminal defense attorneys and prosecutors — he's been both — Skordas doesn't let the law take over his life.

He keeps his life balanced, she said. "He makes time for his family and other interests, like skiing and bikes," says Dunning.

Indeed, he does.

Skordas has an old "chopper" motorcycle he still rides — a partial fee payment from a member of the Sundowners motorcycle club he represented in a criminal case. He has a newer Harley Davidson and a garage full of skis and mountain and road bikes, some of which are for his kids and wife, corporate attorney Charlotte Miller.

This summer Skordas finished 16th place in his age classification in a bike race from Logan to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

And for two decades each Sunday he's climbed into a car with friend Bruce Hancey to drive up to Park City Mountain Resort for a long day of ski patrolling. "For 25 weeks a year, for 20 years, I've driven up and down the canyon with that guy. I think I know him," says Hancey, owner of Founders Title Co.

"Greg loves people. He likes to train them. (The pair have instructed several generations of ski patrolmen.) He likes to help them when they are hurt."

Skordas' life is full today, varied in the past.

The grandson of Greek immigrants, he was raised in the Murray area (where he resides today), graduated from Cottonwood High School (where he wrestled at 119 pounds "and learned the discipline of not eating") and went to the University of Utah where he got a degree in metallurgical engineering.

"Yeah, I was a geek in high school and college, a guy with a calculator on his belt."

He would have actually liked to get a job in his engineer field, but the nation and world were in a mining slump when he graduated in 1978, and the only jobs "were in the middle of nowhere."

He applied to a few graduate schools in different disciplines, including the U.'s law school, and was accepted to several. He picked law.

While in law school he worked part-time for Yocom in his mentor's private criminal law practice.

"We defended Joseph Paul Franklin, who shot the African-American kids" near Liberty Park. Almost immediately, "I was hooked on criminal work. I loved it."

After law school and passing the bar, he worked in the Legal Defender's office — long hours, low pay and hundreds of cases.

In 1986 he went to work for Yocom, now the county D.A., starting with misdemeanor cases. He worked his way up, ultimately prosecuting some big cases, including the kidnapping/murder at Alta View Hospital.

His first marriage, ending in divorce, produced son Nic, now a junior at the Air Force Academy. While it may sound hokey, says Nic, "My dad is my best friend. I can talk to him about anything, and so can other people."

Skordas tries to find the best in any situation, says Nic, like the time Skordas took his son and half a dozen teenage friends on a boating outing on Utah Lake. "Our boat wouldn't start. A wasted, frustrating day? No. Dad struck up a conversation with a guy at the dock who actually let us take his boat out. It was great."

Skordas actually recruited his second wife, Miller, but not for marriage.

Always physically active, Skordas was a player/coach for various softball teams of lawyers. He asked Miller, whom he knew casually while at the U. law school and had seen playing for another lawyers' team, to play second base for his team.

Now they have two teenage daughters.

In 1994, Skordas says he "had my dream job" — chief deputy for Yocom, running a large prosector's office, involved in the top cases.

"I started the first gang unit. We reformed the arson task force. It was all good stuff, and we had plans for major changes (in countywide prosecutions and victims rights) for the next four years."

Then Yocom lost his re-election.

"And suddenly," Skordas recalls, "I was out of a job."

Skordas went "cold turkey" into private defense work, he says. He struggled for about a year, but now he turns down dozens of cases each month because he can't handle all of the requests for work, he says.

"Dave asked me to come back" when Yocom won re-election to his old job in 1998. "But I was established. I've made a lot of money at this" private defense work. And collected some strange payments.

At one time he had four or five partly running motorcycles in his garage, fee payments from road-hardened defendants. "I made him a deal," says wife Charlotte: "Sell them for what he could and then buy a new Harley. He did."

He's been involved recently in a number of high-profile cases as well as quietly representing the less famous — like victims seeking help from the Rape Crisis Center.

And he's representing Elizabeth Smart as a "guardian ad litem" attorney after her highly publicized recovery from a months-long kidnapping.

But now, says Skordas, it's time for public work again.

It's prosecuting, civil and appellate work he wants, not black robes.

Should he lose to Shurtleff, he won't apply to be a judge.

"I've never wanted to be a judge, although I respect them and consider a number friends. You can't believe the kick you can get out of being before a jury, cross-examining, trying a case. Judges don't get that."

Skordas admits some of his supporters "were upset" that he took on the Workman defense just as his AG's race took off.

"Politically, it may not have been a smart move because of the time involved. But win or lose (his AG's race), it will be a fun case to try."

And Skordas likes a challenge — as long as it comes with some balance, too.