A petition seeking to forcibly remove Salt Lake County Commissioner David Watson from office for his recent conviction of drunken driving and drug charges was dismissed Wednesday by 3rd District Judge Raymond S. Uno.
He ruled that Watson's violations were not severe enough to be considered crimes of moral turpitude or malfeasance of office, which he said the Utah Supreme Court has ruled are necessary for a forced removal.The petition to remove Watson was filed by Joseph Stumph - a Republican candidate in House District 47 in Kearns/Taylorsville - when the county attorney's office decided against trying to remove Watson. State law allows any taxpayer to initiate such action.
However, state law also forced the county attorney's office to represent Stumph - even though that office did not believe enough in the merits of his petition to have filed a similar one itself.
So when Watson's attorney, Ron Yengich, made a motion for dismissal, Deputy County Attorney Gavin J. Anderson joined in it. Both attorneys said previous court decisions have determined crimes of moral turpitude or malfeasance are necessary to remove an official - even though state law may appear at first glance to allow removal for conviction of just a misdemeanor.
That joint action prompted Stumph to jump up and ask Uno for permission to speak to the court to say he did not agree with Anderson, even though Anderson was representing him.
Stumph then said Yengich and Anderson "are in bed together on this matter." Yengich quickly objected to that phrase and asked Uno to make Stumph apologize.
Stumph voluntarily apologized for the phrase, but said he felt the county attorney's office had a conflict of interest in representing him. County Attorney David Yocom is a Democrat, as is Watson.
Stumph then said that the law itself says an official could be removed for conviction of a misdemeanor. But Yengich said the Utah Supreme Court defined that to mean crimes of moral turpitude or malfeasance, otherwise any mere jaywalking conviction could cause removal from office.
Uno agreed with Yengich and Anderson, and dismissed the petition.
Stumph told the Deseret News he was disappointed in the decision, and felt the county attorney's office joining in the motion to dismiss Watson "is a sign that it's soft on crime."
Watson has dropped out of his race for re-election. Democrats were able to replace him on the ticket when a psychiatrist said Watson was too ill to run. But Watson has said he is well enough to serve the rest of his term.