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West Jordan employee sues city, its attorneys, manager, others

Published: Monday, Aug. 11 2014 7:30 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 12 2014 6:49 a.m. MDT

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SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime West Jordan employee has filed a lawsuit against the city, its city manager, two of the city's attorneys and a state investigator in federal court.

Shelley Thomas, who began working for the city in 1983 and became the court clerk supervisor in 2000, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court alleging a number of issues, from civil rights violations to negligence, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. West Jordan City, City Manager Richard Davis, city attorney Jeff Robinson and deputy city attorney Stuart Williams, the state of Utah and state bureau of investigations agent Jeff Plank are all named in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the lawsuit stems from various incidents, most of them involving an investigation into the conduct of West Jordan Justice Court Judge Ronald Kunz. Sometime before June 25, either Williams or Robinson made a criminal complaint against Kunz, alleging that he had broken the law by disseminating confidential information.

Kunz was eventually charged with unlawful dissemination of criminal history, a class B misdemeanor, but was found not guilty by West Valley Justice Court Judge Brendan McCullagh. According to the lawsuit, city attorneys and Plank repeatedly badgered Thomas to try and locate a certain case file during their investigation and that they persisted even after she couldn't locate it and the judge said he would turn it over once he had erased any personal "judge's notes" from the file.

Thomas said she never saw a subpoena for the information, even though she knew one had been issued for the "custodian of record," which would be her or Kunz. She said her requests to see the subpoena were denied by the city, but that they continued to threaten her job and badger her about the file, according to the lawsuit.

She said Plank told her to search the judge's office while Kunz was out of town. When she couldn't find them in the office and said she didn't know where they were, he "accused her of not being forthcoming with information."

"An already frightened and emotional Thomas, now accused of not cooperating, became terrified …," the lawsuit states.

A second time when Thomas attempted to search the judge's office, a judge who was filling in for Kunz noticed her anxiety and called Robinson, who yelled at the judge, the lawsuit states. Robinson apparently refused to show the judge the subpoena as well.

Robinson then called Thomas and told her that they wanted to know if Kunz had taken the file from the building and ordered her to search his office for a third time, this time under Williams' supervision, the lawsuit states. The woman was also told to search through his desk and personal items.

Eventually, the file was located in the desk. An "emotional and crying" Thomas was escorted back to Robinson's office where she told him she had intended to work for the city until her retirement.

"Thomas informed Robinson and Williams that it is not a secret that there is tension between the courts and the city attorney's office and she was tired of it," the lawsuit states.

Both Kunz and Thomas expressed their concerns to the city, but the lawsuit said that the subsequent responses did not speak to or resolve any of the issues they raised, the lawsuit states. Williams was later given a "Manager of the Year" award.

Thomas was later told that Plank indicated to state court officials they were going to pursue criminal charges against her, though they never did. According to the lawsuit, she began to have anxiety and suffer from nausea following the incidents.

She is asking for a jury trial and $500,000 in compensatory damages, with punitive damages that are three times the other damages that are awarded.

Keith Stoney, who represents Thomas and was a longtime West Valley City Justice Court judge, said tension between a city's judicial and executive branch is "not unusual," but said that to have city officials acting like enforcement and ordering illegal seizures as alleged in the suit, is. He said Thomas has stayed in her job, but filed a notice of claim last year in state court.

She never pursued her case there and there were "talks" in the meantime, Stoney said, "but when she became dissatisfied and felt the city wasn't going to even apologize, she felt obligated to do something."

He said Thomas still hopes to finish her career in West Jordan and has always excelled in her position. Stoney said she worked her way up to her administrative role, routinely gives classes and trainings to others and is always given great reviews following evaluations.

"There's no reason for someone to treat her like this and push buttons other than the executive branch trying to push its weight around with the judicial branch," he said. "In our system, there's a checks and balances within it all and some cities have come of the opinion that they can just step on the judicial branch. This tension exists in other places, it just had not gotten to this point."

A message left for Davis was not returned Monday.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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