A 2nd District Court judge Monday asked for more detailed legal arguments on three of nine complaints filed in September against three Davis County elected officials.
Judge Douglas L Cornaby listened for more than an hour to an investigator's findings on the nine allegations ranging from malfeasance to misuse of county money.He then asked attorneys for both sides to submit written legal briefs outlining the issues in three areas: the use of interest earned on hospital bond money to buy land for the county's animal shelter and fairgrounds; the awarding of a $180,000 construction-management contract for the new county jail; and whether deputy county attorneys are public officials or merit employees.
A Dec. 7 hearing date on the nine charges was canceled and a new court date to present the briefs and oral arguments was scheduled for Dec. 20.
The complaint against the three officials was filed in early September, signed by eight county residents and seeks their removal under a 1953 state statute. Named in the complaint are commissioners Harold Tippetts and William Peters and former commissioner and current interim clerk Glen Saunders.
Because one of the charges involves deputy Davis attorneys abusing mileage reimbursement, the investigation was turned over to Weber County Attorney Reed Richards, who in turn assigned it to his chief deputy, William Daines.
Daines Tuesday told the judge an investigation shows there are facts behind each of the allegations but in most of them, he sees no grounds for prosecution.
On two of the nine complaints, Daines said, interpretation of Utah statutes is the primary complaint. On a third allegation, the mileage abuse, prosecution under the statute the complaint was filed under would depend on whether deputy county attorneys are public officials, subject to that statute, or merit employees and exempt from it.
Daines said when the county commissioners used $600,000 in interest money generated by the investment of hospital bond money to buy 50 acres of land to build a county fairgrounds, they did it after asking for a legal opinion from their county attorney's office and the bond attorneys.
And, when the county awarded a $180,000 construction-management contract to Joe Rhoades, a Farmington resident and Planning Commission member, it was also done after obtaining the advice of Deputy County Attorney Jerry Hess.
Further prosecution on those two decisions hinges on interpretation of state statutes, Daines said, prompting the judge to ask for further research and written briefs.
The judge also asked for briefs on County Attorney Mel Wilson's request for reimbursement of legal fees for the three officials. A dismissal motion filed last week by Wilson was not discussed, pending the Dec. 20 hearing.
Daines told Cornaby his two-month investigation was hampered by two of the complainants who signed the charges refusing to talk to him and most of the others not having first-hand knowledge of the facts behind the allegations. Some were based only on newspaper articles, he said.
And, although the complaint appears to have been written by an attorney, Daines said, no attorney or legal counsel's name appears on it.
Depositions taken by Wilson and Hess, however, have revealed the complaint was drafted by former County Attorney Loren Martin, with much of the information it is based on supplied by County Auditor Ruth Kennington. Kennington has had a long-running battle with the three officials named in the suit.
In his point-by-point presentation, Daines said an investigation of the nine charges against the officials shows some are groundless or there was no intention of wrongdoing on the part of those named.
In the case of the bond interest and construction contract, Daines said it would be difficult to prove intential wrongdoing when the actions were based on the advice of the county's legal staff.
Another of the complaints, that the commissioners interfered with Kennington in her auditing duties, is basically groundless, Daines said, and the allegations have mostly been retracted.
Staff members removed from her office were simply reassigned, with their same duties, to another department; Kennington was not shut out of the county's computer system; and there is no evidence the commissioners intimidated the auditor by asking her to wait from a Friday afternoon to a Monday morning to perform an internal audit of the county's animal-control department, Daines said.