A 2nd District judge has taken a complaint against three Davis County officials and a request for its dismissal under advisement after a stormy court hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Judge Douglas L Cornaby did not rule on the validity of the charges at Tuesday's hearing, saying some written legal briefs he requested had been submitted to him that day and he had no time to read them.The hearing on the nine charges of malfeasance and misuse of county money, filed in September, was held in a packed courtroom, and at least one spectator was threatened by the judge with a contempt sentence.
The Salt Lake woman made several catcalls during the hearing, then was heading out of the courtroom after calling the proceedings a farce when Cornaby sent his bailiff to retrieve her.
After a lecture, in which he threatened her with a 30-day jail sentence for contempt, the judge ordered the woman out of the courtroom.
In a related event, one of the original complaint's signers, Reed Oviatt, said he had submitted an amended complaint Tuesday afternoon just before the hearing. It added a 10th charge of financial mismanagement, he said.
The judge, saying the complaint was unsigned and not in proper legal form, ordered it sealed until he can decide whether to accept it.
Oviatt said after the hearing the charge involves $25,000 the County Commission used to fund the county's Bicentennial of the Constitution celebration over the last two years.
In the hearing, County Attorney Mel Wilson asked that the nine charges made against the officials - Commissioners Harold Tippetts and William Peters and former Commissioner Glen Saunders - be dismissed and that a finding of fact be made, individually, that the charges are groundless.
Wilson also submitted several legal briefs and copies of depositions made by his office and charged that the complaint not only lacks merit but was filed in bad faith and was politically motivated.
If the judge agrees, he can order the nine citizens who signed the complaint to pay the county's legal fees incurred in defending it, which at this point total between $2,500 and $3,000, Wilson said.
Wilson said depositions show that county financial documents and other information were taken by County Auditor Ruth Kennington under Oviatt's direction to former County Attorney Loren Martin, who drafted the complaint.
That was done as early as July or August, Wilson said, but the complaint was not formally filed until four days before the September primary election and after the signers - many of whom were involved in the tax-initiative campaign - had decided to back the County Commission candidacy of William "Dub" Lawrence in a meeting that Lawrence attended.
Wilson said the filing, only four days before the election, was a political move designed to hurt the campaigns of Tippetts, running for re-election as a commissioner, and Saunders, running for county clerk. Both were defeated in the primary.
Wilson called the complaint "a grave disservice" to the three officials and said it was a political attack designed to smear their honesty and personal reputations, not a valid legal complaint.
Because one of the allegations in the complaint involved the county attorney's office, the investigation into whether criminal charges should be filed was turned over to William Daines, Weber County chief deputy attorney, at the recommendation of the state attorney general's office.
Daines told the judge in a November hearing and again Tuesday he found no evidence of criminal activity and no grounds for legal action against the three officials.
There are facts behind each of the nine allegations, Daines said, but no evidence of criminal behavior or that the three officials profited personally from the actions.
And, Daines said, some of the decisions were made after obtaining legal advice from the county attorney's office. In some instances, there is no state statute governing the actions, Daines said, leaving the legality open to interpretation.
Viewed in the context of state law, existing court cases, and state Supreme Court rulings, Daines said he finds no basis for pursuing any further charges. As for assessing legal fees against the signers of the complaint, Daines said that issue is outside the scope of his investigation and declined to make a recommendation.
The complaint was filed under a 1953 state statute and seeks the removal of the three officials from office. Tippetts and Saunders both lost their primary election bids and will be out of office in January anyway. Peters still has two years remaining in his term.