WEST JORDAN — Karmen Sanone dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief when she told a judge Friday of the first time she met with former County Recorder Gary Ott at a medical facility after his family had been granted temporary guardianship of him.
"He said to me, 'Do you still love me?'" she said. "And I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'Do you mean you still want me? They told me you didn't want me.'"
The attorney for Ott's siblings, Mary Corporon, then objected to Sanone's testimony, calling it "hearsay." But the judge let Sanone continue, as she made her case that she would be the best person to take care of the former recorder.
Her testimony came a day after it was revealed that Ott had been recently diagnosed with stage four Alzheimer's, and in 2013 — more than a year before his last campaign for office — was diagnosed with dementia.
"He hugs me, he kisses me, he very often knows me by my name," Sanone said. "He says he wants to live at my house."
But when Corporon took her turn to cross-examine Sanone, she painstakingly combed through dozens of pages of documents detailing Ott's finances since Sanone apparently started helping Ott pay his bills in 2013, questioning why numerous water, gas, electric and home loan bills had been left unpaid for so long that he'd incurred late fees, received multiple shut-off notices and at one point his house was threatened with foreclosure.
"I feel very badly of that," Sanone said, but chalked it up to "extenuating circumstances" surrounding the stress of caring for Ott during a time when "the press was putting a lot of pressure on us." She added that in 2016, Ott "seemed to get worse — more defiant and angry at the world."
But Corporon also questioned how Sanone, despite being in the doctor's office when was Ott diagnosed with dementia in 2013 — was allowing him to drive years after, especially in January 2016, when Ott was found stranded and wandering in rural Tooele County. It was the same incident that launched a Deseret News investigation into whether Ott was suffering from health issues preventing him from doing his $190,000-a-year, taxpayer-paid job.
Sanone said she didn't want to "emasculate" Ott by taking his keys, and he was supposed to only be driving "short distances" at that time. That day, Sanone said Ott was supposed to be getting a cup of coffee at the local 7-Eleven that morning.
But rather than driving the mile down the street, Ott drove about 100 miles southwest and wasn't found until police located him shortly before midnight near Rush Valley with his truck out of gas in below-freezing weather.
Sanone's testimony — among dozens of others who were called during Thursday and Friday's hearing — is now before 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck, who will decide whether Ott's family or Sanone should be his permanent guardian.
While Sanone's attorney argued Ott would want Sanone, his "significant other," to be his guardian, Ott's family's attorney argued her track record shows she has not looked out for Ott's best interest.
"Your honor, the most important consideration is Mr Ott's physical health and safety," Corporon said. "And though Ms. Sanone says she's highly educated in this field and can take care of his physical health and safety, the record suggests not."
In addition to Ott's finances being in "shambles," as his sister, Kathy Chamberlain, testified, and him being allowed to drive years after a dementia diagnosis, Corporon also pointed out Ott was under Sanone's care when he wandered several times from home resulting in multiple police welfare checks. She also noted he was under Sanone's watch when he suffered a serious hand injury because she allowed him to be operating heavy farm equipment in 2015.
Corporon noted that the people accused of hiding his condition from the public — Sanone and Ott's deputy Julie Dole — kept their county jobs because Ott remained county recorder.
"Your honor, he simply hasn't been taken care of," Corporon said. "The dark version of that he's not being taken care of is because nobody can admit he's incapacitated because they'll lose their job if they admit that. But the less dark version of that is that Ms. Sanone really loves this man, but she's just not good at taking care of him."
But Sanone's attorney, Aaron Bergman, argued a "key piece" of the issue has been left out of the family's argument for guardianship of their brother.
"That is choice," Bergman said. "That is the fact that Mr. Gary Ott chose to be with Karmen. No one is disputing that. (Ott) chose to be with her, chose to be on the farm (with her) and everyone was A-OK with that until there was a disagreement."
Bergman argued that before Ott's family took him to a medical facility in southern Utah, Ott had $50,000 in the bank rather than $13,000 and Ott was enjoying his life more with Sanone on her rural property in Weber County rather than declining in a medical facility.
Additionally, a state Adult Protective Services investigation into allegations that Sanone and Dole were exploiting or abusing Ott produced "inconclusive" results after not finding "enough evidence to suggest any abuse or neglect had occurred," investigator Heather Holbrook testified.
"Yes there's been incidents, but we don't live in a perfect world. We are dealing with a disease that is not black and white," Bergman said. "On one hand you've got to respect the individual, and on the other hand you want to make sure they're safe."
Bergman said had Ott been put into a "lock-down facility" as soon as he was diagnosed with dementia in 2013, "yes we would have avoided this kind of stuff, but would his quality of life been better? No. He chose to be with Ms. Karmen."
Bergman also argued that Ott wanted to continue working for Salt Lake County, and just because he happened to hire Sanone in 2014 and she and Ott's family haven't gotten along, she's been made out to be "evil."
"Suddenly the years that she took care of Mr. Ott are all just contrived to be evil," he said. "Suddenly, all of the effort and all of the time, all of the doctor's appointments, everything she did is all for naught because of this one complication that Gary Ott hired her in 2014 and she was there at the same time he was."
Ott's independent attorney, Dara Cohen, however, suggested the judge rule in favor of Ott's siblings.
"The needs of my client are not to have some bills paid some of the time and some bills paid in the nick of time," Cohen said. "The needs of my client are not to be kept kind of safe some of the time but to be fully supervised all of the time."
Cohen continued: "I'm not venturing into more subjective speculative theories as to Ms. Sanone's motive. I'm working under the assumption she was doing her best to take care of her life partner. And that was not adequate in this circumstance."
Cohen said Ott's "estate has been greatly distressed" and "he has been at risk multiple times over the last several years due to lack of supervision."
Also at issue was whether Ott was competent when he signed an advance health care directive in January 2015 nominating Sanone to make medical decisions for him.
Dole testified that she witnessed Ott sign that document in January 2015, the same day he was sworn in for a fifth term as recorder.8 comments on this story
Dole said she found it odd that he would ask her to do that, but she said Ott told her a story of how his mother had fallen ill and that her health declined after Ott's brother, Martin Ott, began making decisions for her.
But Cohen called the circumstances of the signing of that document "odd" and "unusual." And while other elements of the case when "taken individually, don't seem so odd. But when taken "collectively?"
"Your honor," Cohen said. "It just don't smell right."
It's not clear when Lubeck will make his ruling, but it may come as soon as next week.