A federal judge ruled Monday that turning over an investigative report in a sexual harassment allegation "would clearly constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy at this time."
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson ruled that releasing an internal investigation into allegations made against former Salt Lake City Fire Department engineer Sam Urie would serve no public interest.Urie is a defendant in a federal lawsuit by Roxana Wollam, a resident of Tempe, Ariz., who said Urie touched her in an offensive and sexual matter. The suit claims this happened when Wollam was visiting Salt Lake City last August and that Urie used his status as a fire department employee to gain access to her. He pretended to be a fire captain investigating a drowning she witnessed, then detained her against her will, drove her to a secluded spot and groped her, her suit says.
After she complained, the fire department investigated. Urie and the department parted ways after signing an "agreement and release" from employment.
The Salt Lake Tribune sought release of both documents under the Governmental Records Access Management Act (GRAMA.) U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball granted a temporary restraining order sought by Urie that blocked the release.
In an unusual hearing Monday, Urie's lawyer, Brent Ward, sought to make the order permanent. But he did not object when Steven Allred, lawyer for Salt Lake City, said the city no longer wanted to keep the job-termination agreement confidential.
It was the investigative report that got everybody's attention. Ward argued that the investigation was protected from disclosure by the law and that much of it is "false and misleading." Further, it is highly intrusive into Urie's privacy and that of others mentioned in the report, he said.
Benson said the hearing was "procedurally a little goofy" since the Tribune's lawyer, Sharon Sonnenreich, was before him when the Tribune is not a party in the case and has not sought status as a friend of the court.
Allred noted that the court had an obligation "to weigh the rights of Mr. Urie versus the public's right to know."
"I feel somewhat disadvantaged here in that I have not seen the document we are arguing about," Sonnenreich said. But for Ward to call the report protected or invasive of privacy amounts to "a trump card," she said. Further, she said, not much precedence has been set with GRAMA cases.
The report fits into GRAMA's classification of records that should be disclosed, she believes, because it involves a disciplinary action against a former government employee.
Benson has read the investigative report, and "there isn't a whole lot there," he said. To disclose it would be "a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy" of Urie and others named in the report.
"I think the mischief that could be made from these by some kind of public disclosure would far outweigh the public interest. . . . This is not Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky."
His decision, which he said was not particularly difficult, was based on weighing the totality of evidence, Benson added.