County Attorney Mel Wilson has filed a motion seeking dismissal of a lawsuit demanding the ouster of three Davis County officials.
Wilson's motion, based on depositions from four witnesses and other evidence, calls the 2nd District Court lawsuit baseless and asks for reimbursement of attorney fees and other costs.The complaint was filed in September and seeks the removal of commissioners Harold Tippetts and Willian Peters and interim county clerk Glen Saunders. It charges them with malfeasance, misuse of county funds, and interfering with a county official's duties.
Second District Judge Douglas L Cornaby has set a Nov. 21 pre-trial hearing on the complaint and a Dec. 7 court hearing.
Wilson said this week the dismissal motion refutes the charges made in the complaint, which he calls spurious and without merit. And, because Wilson feels the complaint is without merit, he is asking for attorney fees and court costs for the three officials, which he said could total up to $15,000 at this point.
Wilson and deputy attorney Jerry Hess are defending the three officials. Although they are paid public officials, Wilson said taxpayer money shouldn't be used to defend officials against baseless lawsuits.
"I don't see having taxpayers foot the bill for a complaint that's spurious and groundless," Wilson said. "I feel strongly that if these people who signed the complaint take it upon themselves to call the commissioners (thieves), they better be ready to answer for it, to know what they're about.
"If the court finds the suit was filed in bad faith and with no grounds, under the civil code it can award costs and fees and hold the filers liable," Wilson said.
Wilson said he doesn't expect immediate action on his motion for dismissal and it will probably not be ruled on until the Dec. 7 court hearing.
Because the complaint also calls into question some actions in the county attorney's office, the investigation was turned over to Weber County Attorney Reed Richards.
Richards has not completed his investigation, Wilson said, and whether the complaint will be acted on or not could depend on whether Richards finds cause to go ahead with prosecution. Richards has the discretion to proceed with charges or not, as in any investigation, Wilson said.
Although no open court hearing on the suit has been held yet, it has already created some political fallout and heated up the long-running battle between the county commission and county auditor Ruth Kennington.
The complaint, drawn up by former county attorney Loren Martin under a 1953 Utah law, charges the two commissioners and former commissioner Saunders with misuse of county funds, shielding county employees from prosecution for stealing county funds and interfering with Kennington's job as auditor.
Much of the documentation included as exhibits in the complaint came from Kennington, supplied to Martin and several Davis County leaders of the now unsuccessful tax initiative movement.
The complaint surfaced the Friday before the September primary election and Tippetts and Saunders blame publicity it generated for their primary election losses.
Depositions were taken from Kennington, her former deputy internal auditor, Jim Larson, and two of those who signed the complaint, Reed Oviatt and Heber Cantrell.
Based on those sworn statements, the commissioners determined that Larson, acting under Kennington's direction, composed and mailed several fake letters to the editors of daily and weekly newspapers. The letters attacked the commissioners and defended Kennington.
As a result, funding for Larson's position was terminated by the commission, in effect firing him, and the commissioners in turn are accusing Kennington of misuse of county funds and equipment, failure to carry out her legal duties and abuse of her office.
An outside accounting firm will be hired to do the internal department audits that Kennington is charged with doing, the commissioners said.