KNOXVILLE — Marion County Attorney Ed Bull recently announced that he will run for a third term in the November 2018 election.
“When I ran the first time, I wanted to create an office that the citizens trusted, that defense attorneys respected, and criminals were afraid of,” Bull said. “I hope we’ve done enough in the eyes of the voters to think that we’re worthy of receiving another term.”
Bull said his early announcement will end speculation that he might run for Congress. He discussed accomplishments and challenges of his second term, including his handling of a sexting incident involving Knoxville High School students, in a Sept. 1 interview with the Journal-Express.
He said he takes the most pride in a February undercover sting operation that targeted people seeking to have sex with minors. Bull and a law enforcement team from Marion County and beyond went to Wisconsin to get training that isn’t available in Iowa. The team posted online ads and engaged in chat. Three people now face charges.
“We took three people off the street,” Bull said. “We also were able to learn a new skill and get law enforcement trained to combat the problems we deal with.”
Bull said his biggest challenge has been the sexting incident. He offered a pretrial diversion program to 25 youths involved in the exchange of alleged sexual images rather than prosecute them. Bull said he hoped to help them avoid a guilty verdict and a sex offender label.
The parents of one student refused that option and sued Bull, claiming photos of their daughter did not involve nudity. Marion County agreed in July to settle the case, meaning that Bull would not prosecute the girl. The county paid $40,000 for the costs of lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union who took up the girl’s case. As a county official, Bull is covered by insurance for such situations, so the total cost to the county was a $2,500 deductible.
“It’s unfortunate when you try to do the right thing and draft a creative solution, you get sued and dragged into federal court,” Bull said. “If you brought me the same case again, it would be very difficult for me to do anything different than what I did.
“I don’t think that we should have the one dictate the positive that happened for the other 24 families.”
Bull said he expects potential opponents to make an issue of the case, but turned his focus to other initiatives.
He touts a program that takes back control of collecting fees owed by offenders. Localizing the process eliminates a 25 percent charge from an out-of-state law firm that previously handled fee collection, easing the payment burden, he said. The county also helps offenders get their driver licenses back, allowing them to drive to jobs and earn money to pay restitution. In 2016, the program brought $100,000 to Marion County, he said.
Bull also points to a task force developing local solutions to the opioid crisis.
“What we’re doing right now isn’t working,” Bull said “We don’t realize how many people are dying and overdosing.”
He said he hopes to work with legislators on a bill that would direct pharmacies to track prescriptions and identify people who appear to be abusing pain-killers.