A state representative who pleaded no-contest to shoplifting charges failed to appear for a meeting Saturday with Democratic Party officials concerning her political future.
Party leaders may ask for a legislative ethics investigation of Rep. Dionne P. Halverson, D-Ogden, who was arrested in connection with the theft of $196 worth of clothes from Mervyn's at the Newgate Mall in Ogden.The party's legislative leaders had asked to meet with Halverson at the Salt Lake Airport Hilton Hotel following a daylong conference. After an animated telephone conversation with her, House Minority Whip Kelly C. Atkinson, D-West Jordan, said the meeting would be at another time.
Atkinson said Democratic leaders are not prepared to say whether they will ask Halverson to resign from the House of Representatives, but he said an ethics investigation likely will be necessary.
"This situation can't simply be swept under the rug. There will have to be an ethics investigation," he said.
Halverson, 43, pleaded no-contest in late December to the charges. Last November, Halverson won re-election to a second two-year term in the Legislature from District 10.
"Dionne's had some family problems," Atkinson said, explaining why Halverson didn't arrive for the meeting. "She indicated she is willing to meet with us. I don't know when that meeting will be."
Atkinson said party leaders want to hear what Halverson's intentions are. "It's her decision to make," he said, when asked if she will resign. "We want to discuss ramifications with her."
Repeated attempts by Deseret News reporters to contact Halverson by telephone were unsuccessful.
Eight items of clothing were taken Dec. 20 from the store. Halverson was stopped by a store security guard as she walked out of the building, according to Assistant Ogden City Attorney Dan Garner.
The prosecutor said officials recorded the sale price of the items during the investigation. If the regular price of the stolen goods had been listed in police records, the charge could have jumped to a third-degree felony, Garner said.
Halverson, who appeared before 2nd Circuit Judge W. Brent West during her arraignment in December, was given a $350 fine and 18 months probation, Garner said earlier.
One of the conditions of probation is that she enroll and complete an anti-theft therapy program. Halverson also received a 30-day jail sentence that was suspended. Garner said West would consider a defense motion to dismiss the case if the defendant successfully completes her 18-month probation.
Halverson was quoted in a Dec. 29 Deseret News story as saying she did not plan to resign from office. She said she had spoken with H. Craig Moody, R-Salt Lake, who will be speaker of the House in the 1991 session, and received support to continue her duties as a representative.
"I have had a wide base of support from constituents, friends, fellow legislators and neighbors. I will return to Capitol Hill, and I will represent my constituents," Halverson said at that time.
Atkinson was waiting for her Saturday along with Rep. Grant D. Protzman, D-Ogden, assistant minority whip; Rep. Frank R. Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake, minority leader; and Peter Billings, State Democratic Party chairman.
Billings had little comment, other than to say he believes Democratic lawmakers should handle the situation. "I feel real sorry for her, personally," he said.
House rules state, Atkinson said, that if three or more representatives sign a letter that an ethics committee investigation would be conducted.
"From our standpoint, we would like to see if the representative (Halverson) is prepared to go through that, whether she can handle ," Atkinson said. "We have been told by both Democrats and Republicans that this needs to be investigated. We don't want it to appear as if legislators are above the law or that legislators will be treated differently than the average citizen.
"Legislators that I have talked to on both sides of the aisle don't want it to appear that we can hide something or sweep something under the rug. If an ethics investigation is called for, it takes three legislators signing a letter requesting ," Atkinson said.
Atkinson said the ethics committee would have 30 days to conduct an investigation, with Halverson being given 30 days to respond to a committee report.
He said the report would be submitted to the Legislature. Findings of the ethics committee and Halverson's response would be submitted to the entire House of Representatives. The House then would act on the ethics committee's recommendations, Atkinson said.
If Halverson resigns, Gov. Norm Bangerter would choose her replacement from a list of three candidates supplied by the Weber County Democratic Party.
Atkinson said alternatives or options for the ethics committee include the following: Finding no fault; censuring her, which would mean the legislator wouldn't lose any legislative privileges or rights; removing privileges such as service on legislative committees and attendance at legislative functions; or a recommendation for expulsion. Expulsion would require a two-thirds vote of all House members, Atkinson said.