WEST JORDAN — In a legal dispute between troubled Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott's family and his office aide and "longtime friend" Karmen Sanone, a judge on Friday declined Sanone's request to rescind the family's temporary guardianship of Ott.
Third District Judge Bruce Lubeck affirmed Friday that Ott's family will remain as his guardian, at least temporarily, as the court continues to weigh who will permanently be in charge of the recorder's finances and care.
Ott's family has had custody of Ott since June 28, when they picked him up with police assistance after he was founding sitting alone in a truck while Sanone shopped in a Weber County Wal-Mart.
Ott did not attend Friday's hearing.
His exact whereabouts are unknown, but the family's attorney, Mary Corporon (who is also Ott's ex-wife), said Ott is currently residing in an unspecified medical facility under the advice of medical providers.
Ott's independently appointed attorney, Dara Cohen, also told the judge that Ott managed his own finances until Sanone "stepped in" in 2014. Cohen said she planned to review Ott's banking records to investigate his finances and determine whether there was any "dramatic change" after Sanone took control.
Leading to Friday's hearing, Sanone objected to an emergency court order granting Ott's family custody of Ott, who has been the focus of widespread public concerns regarding his health and well-being, and whether he's actually been living in Weber County with Sanone, outside his elected district.
Lubeck ruled in favor of the family, despite arguments from Sanone's attorney that she should be appointed guardian and conservator because in January 2015 — shortly after his 2014 re-election campaign — Ott signed an advanced health care directive nominating her as a guardian in the event one was needed.
Sanone has been identified as Ott's girlfriend or fiancee in court documents, police reports and on social media.
Sanone's attorney, Aaron Bergman, argued the petition granting the family emergency guardianship was improperly approved.
"My concern is the petition itself is terribly vague and does not set forth an existence of an emergency," Bergman told the judge.
He added: "Here we’re dealing with a proceeding where a man was taken into custody, away from someone who he had nominated as his guardian 2 ½ years ago, without due process and without a due hearing."
But Ott's family has filed a motion saying the 2015 advanced health care directive should be declared "invalid due to incompetency" at the time Ott signed it, according to the court docket.
"I submit on its face (the document) does not appoint her," Corporon said.
The judge said the document "clearly doesn't" appoint Sanone as a guardian because it only "nominates" her. He also said he didn't agree with the way the family's emergency petition was signed, but "now it's been done" the court must proceed. Another judge signed the petition after Lubeck initially declined to sign it.
Lubeck also ordered a mental evaluation of Ott.
Tensions rose between Lubeck and Bergman at one point, after Bergman pressed the judge, expressing concerns that he was going to rule in favor of Ott's family without enough evidence.
"My point is we don't know where Mr. Ott is. We don't know where he is. We don't know what's going on. We don't know much about anything here," Bergman protested.
Lubeck pointed out that technically Sanone isn't an "interested party" in the matter because she doesn't have any blood or marital relationship with Ott.
"I understand you're trying to protect your client's interests," the judge said, "but you're losing now, Mr. Bergman. She's not an interested person."
Bergman kept pushing: "The difficulty here ," he said, but then Lubeck interrupted.
"You're just going to keep at it, aren't you?" the judge said. "You're going to keep doing that. You're not going to accept my ruling."
"I'm not trying to be disrespectful," Bergman said.
"Sure you are," Lubeck rebuked. "You're doing it. I'm trying to make a decision here and you won't let me talk."
Bergman later apologized.
Lubeck eventually ruled that the family and Sanone should try to settle the matter in mediation, outside of court, but if the matter can't be settled that way, he scheduled another hearing for Sept. 6 to determine Ott's mental capacity and his permanent guardianship.
"Our focus is that it's cleared up as soon as possible," Sanone said after the hearing. "The longer that Gary is forcibly detained in an institution, the less likely he'll be able to return to his community living."
Sanone also argued that Corporon, as Ott's ex-wife, has a conflict of interest given the possibility that she could become Ott's de facto attorney in future court proceedings if the family is granted full guardianship of Ott.
But Lubeck denied Sanone's motion to disqualify Corporon, ruling that Ott will have independent counsel at all times.
Asked after the hearing about Ott's well-being, Corporon said: "He's doing as well as he could do."
Until the legal dispute is solved, the matter off Ott's elected position and whether he will continue collecting his $190,000 taxpayer-paid salary and benefits remains in limbo — while the Salt Lake County Council and District Attorney Sim Gill continue their investigations into Ott's well-being and residency.
Council Chairman Steve DeBry said after the hearing that he was "pleased" with the judge's ruling, hopeful that the matter is nearing "closure" for not only residents of Salt Lake County, but also Ott.
"I think we're going to see a resolution to this soon," DeBry said, noting that the council has not put its investigation into Ott's residency "in idle or neutral."
"Ott's residency is still a concern because, in my opinion, he hasn't lived or spent the majority of his time in Salt Lake City," DeBry said. "Of course, we don't know that for certain because we're still pursuing that, but we're looking at it. And for now I think we have a temporary resolution for Gary, and we'll have a final one in September."
Ott's chief deputy, Julie Dole, also attended Friday's hearing.
Dole said in an interview that she'll continue to run the recorder's office in Ott's absence — the only difference, she said, is that she won't be able to continue giving Ott weekly reports of office business.
Dole confirmed she was the witness of the 2015 document Ott signed nominating Sanone as a guardian. She said Ott brought it to the recorder's office simply looking for a witness so he could sign it.
She also said Sanone wasn't present that day. "It was just me and him," she said.
When asked if she believed Ott was competent when he signed that document, Dole said she "felt like" he was.
Dole said she didn't know why Ott wanted to nominate a guardian.
"I don't know, unless he felt something was slipping or something," she said. "He didn't tell me why, just that if something happens."
Dole added, however, that at the time Ott told her "a story" about how his siblings had once put his mother in "a facility" and "he didn't feel like his siblings would give him the best care."
When Ott's family picked up Ott last month, Sanone accused his two sisters and his brother of only wanting guardianship of Ott because "all they want is his money," according to police body camera footage.
Last week, Corporon disputed that claim, saying Ott's siblings are "motivated by one thing and one thing only, and that is the health and welfare of their brother."