A former Cache Valley man who had a $302,000 jury award taken away from him by U.S. District Judge Dee V. Benson will get another chance to collect the judgment.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that motions leading to a dismissal of the jury verdict in Paul Ray Sheffield's favor should have been heard by a different judge.Sheffield was convicted in 1987 of raping his then 12-year-old daughter and served three years in prison before his conviction was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court because of trial error. Prosecutors decided not to retry the case.
In 1991, Sheffield filed a federal lawsuit accusing two Cache Valley law enforcement officers of coercing his older daughter and another girl into supporting the rape allegation of his younger daughter.
A jury returned a verdict against the officers on March 27, 1995, and awarded Sheffield $300,000 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages.
But Benson granted the two officers' motions for a mistrial and a new trial on grounds some of the witnesses lacked credibility and the jury verdict was unreasonable.
A few months later, Benson disclosed he had been represented in a personal matter by attorney Harold Christensen, whose firm - Snow, Christensen & Martineau - had also represented the two law enforcement officers in the Sheffield case.
On a motion by Sheffield's lawyer, Benson recused himself and the post-trial portion of the case was reassigned to Judge Tena Camp-bell. Sheffield then decided to appeal Benson's ruling even though it wasn't technically final. At that point, the case took an unusual turn.
To facilitate the appeal, both sides agreed to have the case dismissed and in effect decided by the 10th Circuit Court. Their stipulation said "in no event will the case be remanded (by the appeals court) for a retrial."
In other words, if the 10th Circuit Court upheld the dismissal, Sheffield would lose. If it reversed the dismissal, Sheffield would win. But a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court refused to be put in that position.
Writing for the court, Judge Carlos F. Lucero said while the tactic had succeeded in moving the case to appeal, "we reject the parties' attempt to dictate the terms and result of our review."
The judges said Benson should have recused himself before ruling on the post-trial motions. They also reversed Campbell's dismissal of the case and ordered a reconsideration of those motions by her or "whichever judge is assigned to handle the case by the district court on remand."