A 2nd District judge on Wednesday dismissed a complaint seeking the ouster of three Davis County elected officials, saying the complaint was groundless and its timing probably politically motivated.
Judge Douglas L Cornaby ruled the allegations against Commissioners Harold Tippetts and William L. Peters and former Commissioner Glen Saunders do not constitute misconduct or malfeasance.The judge said he found "no evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors or malfeasance in office which would subject them to judicial removal" under the law.
"On the other hand," he said, "the investigation shows these public officers to be men and women of high character, human, and erring at times, but with integrity."
He also said in his 37-page ruling that the timing of the complaint's filing, four days before the September primary election, indicates it was politically motivated.
Tippetts lost his re-election bid to the commission in the primary and Saunders, who had already given up his commission job and was seeking election as county clerk, also lost.
With the filing of the complaint and publication of the charges in an Ogden newspaper that close to the election, the judge concludes, "It well may be that the publication of the accusation affected the outcome of the election," which he later says is "reprehensible" politics.
While dismissing all nine charges, the judge did rule the persons who brought the complaint are not liable for legal and court costs as County Attorney Mel Wilson requested.
There are facts behind each charge, the judge said, and while the complainants may not have investigated their charges fully, he ruled they were brought in good faith and each of the eight signers of the complaint "individually attested to the fact that they each believed that the statements contained in the accusation were true to the best of their knowledge."
The the charges were investigated and the case was prosecuted by the Weber County attorney's office because Wilson is charged by state law to act as legal adviser and defense attorney for the county's elected officials.
One of the nine allegations also involved expense reimbursement policies in the county attorney's office
The complaint, filed under a 1953 Utah law, charged that, as commissioners, Tippets, Peters and Saunders misused county funds and abused their authority.
If the judge had found the complaints valid, the law provides only for the removal from office of the officials. No criminal or civil penalties are included.
Even if the judge had found sufficient grounds in the complaint, the effect would be slight since Tippetts and Saunders, defeated in the fall primary, are leaving office next week anyway. Peters has two more years to serve.
The charges listed in the complaint and the judge's ruling, based on the investigation by the Weber County Attorney's Office, are:
- Misuse of county travel and per diem funds on a January 1988 trip to Washington and New York taken by county officials to secure a federal loan and set a bond rating for the county.
"The inescapable conclusion which must be drawn from the facts is that the Davis County Commission did not appropriate any county money for their own use or for the use of another," the judge ruled.
- In 1983, an outside audit found that some fees for probate review and passport refunds were being pocketed by the county clerk, a common practice in the state at the time. The complaint charges the commissioners with not prosecuting the action.
Cornaby ruled the commissioners, along with then-County Attorney Rodney Page, ordered the action stopped when the audit uncovered it. In addition to the charge being 5 years old, the judge ruled, the facts show the commissioners stopped the practice and did not try to cover it up.
- A $62,000 contract to help the county sell $18.5 million in bonds to build its new jail and court complex was awarded without getting bids.
Cornaby ruled the contract does not fall under the state statute requiring competitive bids on construction projects because the bonding advisory contract is not part of the jail's actual construction.
- A $180,000 contract for managing the jail's construction also was awarded without going through a competitive bidding procedure.
The judge again ruled that the contract does not fall under the state statute requiring competitive bidding.
- The commissioners in June 1988 spent $700,000 in interest earned on hospital bonds to buy land adjacent to the new county justice complex for construction of a county fairgrounds.
The judge ruled the money is arbitrage, which is interest the county has earned on the bonds in excess of what is required to pay off the bonds. The county has paid off all of the bonds it can and has put aside enough money earned in interest to pay off the remainder when they come due, as required by state law, the judge ruled.
But the bonds are still earning interest and no state law covers what should be done with that money, Cornaby said. The decision was made with the advice of the county attorney's office, the judge said, and the land purchase "was unquestionably for a county purpose."
- Commissioners in 1985 used funds from the same source to help build the county's animal control shelter.
Cornaby said his ruling in the previous allegation applies to this one as well.
The judge also chided the author of the complaint, former County Attorney Loren Martin, for not investigating this charge more fully. Although not naming Martin specifically, Cornaby notes the "drafter of the accusation simply ignored facts or failed to discover what even a cursory review of the facts and the law would disclose."
- Davis County Treasurer Pauline McBride in 1985 and 1986 invested county money in mutual funds that did not meet the state's guidelines for safe investments.
Cornaby ruled McBride followed accepted legal procedures and the state initially approved, then later disapproved, of two investments in a mutual fund. And, he ruled, the commissioners have no responsibility for investing funds.
- The commissioners locked County Auditor Ruth Kennington out of the county's computer system, denying her access to county financial records needed to conduct audits; removed personnel from her office, effectively keeping her from conducting audits; and intimidated her, trying to keep her from doing her job.
The judge ruled these charges groundless, saying the two employees transferred are essentially doing the same job as before but in a different department.
- Travel vouchers submitted by some deputy county attorneys for personal car expenses were inflated.
Cornaby said the investigation turned up discrepancies in travel vouchers for only one deputy attorney, and his supervisor, the county attorney, determined the discrepancies were not wilful.