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Prosecutor settling back in, enjoying slower pace

Christina Proctor

Amid boxes of law books and briefs, Hans Uthe is settling into his job.

Uthe, the new assistant district attorney in El Dorado County, returned to familiar ground three weeks ago. He spent four years working as a deputy district attorney for El Dorado County in the 1980s.

“I was really pleased to come back and see so many of the same people,” Uthe said. “Many of the law enforcement officers are the same, only the positions have changed. Judge Lasarow was the assistant district attorney during my time here.”

Uthe, 41, is now trying cases before him.

Uthe is filling the vacancy left by Sean O’Brien’s promotion to chief assistant district attorney. O’Brien is now stationed at the Placerville office.

Uthe’s office walls are still bare. His degrees and family pictures are absent. He’s been too busy.

“I’m thinking about rearranging the furniture,” he admitted. “It depends on how far the cords can stretch. I think everything will fall into place after that, but it will still probably be cluttered.”

The desire to become a prosecutor came while he was still working on his undergraduate degree, Uthe said. He became involved as a volunteer with a support group for victims of violent crime.

“I decided then that I wanted to be a deputy D.A.,” Uthe said. “I was there to help people understand the court process. I spent a lot of time with people talking with them. Many of them had lost family members to homicide.”

After graduating early with a political science degree, Uthe entered Santa Clara University Law School. Even though he had already decided which area of law he wanted to practice, in 1979 after graduation Uthe decided to spend some time in the enemy camp.

“My clerk work for a defense attorney was deliberate,” Uthe said. “Since I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor I felt it was important to spend some time with a good criminal defense lawyer.”

Uthe said he asked several judges for recommendations and settled on an attorney in San Jose with whom he spent six months.

Uthe said he has also done some pro bono defense work periodically throughout his career.

Uthe jumped into the prosecution field with both feet as a deputy district attorney in Calaveras County.

“There was only the district attorney and myself in the office. I tried my first trial two weeks after I started,” Uthe said. “It was a little busy at times but I got a lot of experience. In larger counties they kind of move you a long at a slower pace, but in Calaveras there were only two attorneys for two courtrooms.”

After four years in Calaveras, Uthe moved to South Lake Tahoe in 1984.

Uthe said after four years in the El Dorado County office, ailing parents necessitated a move to the Bay Area. He moved his family, took a job with the State Bar of California and worked prosecuting errant lawyers for several years. His work brought him to the attention of several judges who offered him a job as a court counsel.

“For the last seven years I worked as a court counsel. I was commuting an hour and a half to work in San Francisco. I’m the type who likes to visit the city and then go home. All the factors that made us move off the hill had resolved so we were more than ready to move back. We like the snow and the mountains and a slower pace of life,” Uthe said.

Uthe said he plans to carry his own case load as assistant district attorney.

“A part of my job is to find gaps and step in,” Uthe explained. “A part of being in a small county that I really enjoy is that you understand the people you are serving. You always remember these are people you’re dealing with and not just a collection of facts.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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