Brittany Ivins is interim San Juan County Attorney, lawsuit still in 7th District court
San Juan County Commission selected Brittney Ivins to act as the acting county attorney through the end of 2022, but the issue isn’t entirely wrapped up in the 7th District Court.
Following the March 28 resignation of county attorney Kendal Laws, San Juan County received interest from four county attorneys to fill the remaining nine months of the term.
Instead of appointing one of the four applicants, the commission passed a resolution to allow Utah attorneys that live outside of the county to apply for the acting county attorney open position at their April 19 meeting.
Former County Attorney Craig Halls, Ivins, and a handful of other county residents filed a petition for relief on April 25 against the County Commission and County Staff. Arguing that allowing for outside county attorneys was against the state statute regarding the replacement of the county attorney.
On May 3rd, 7th District Court Judge Don Torgerson issued a restraining order that the county not advertise, solicit, accept or consider applications or appoint any person for the position of San Juan County attorney except one of the four individuals who originally applied.
On May 11 at a special San Juan County Commission meeting, Ivins was appointed as the acting country attorney, through a resolution.
Ivins, and the rest of the plaintiffs in the case, took issue with the language of the resolution.
On May 14, Ivins filed a motion to the court requesting that the ‘whereas’ statements be struck from the resolution that named her acting county attorney.
Arguments for the relief include that the resolution undermines the legitimacy and authority of the appointed County Attorney.
That since the board of commission’s refusal to admit it was wrong to ignore legal counsel, the court must grant the supplementary relief request to prevent future abuses.
And that the resolution exposes the county to liability that should not be born by taxpayers.
Defense attorneys for the Commission and County staff will have the opportunity to respond to the motion at a hearing scheduled for June 22.
At a May 16 injunction hearing Judge Torgerson summarized the questions that the opposing attorneys will attempt to answer at the June hearing.
“Should the resolution be redacted and if so what authority do I have to do that. Number two, attorneys fees either direction. And what authority do I have to do that?”
Judge Torgerson continued,
“So if the county commission through its majority acts in bad faith, must the county then pay the attorneys fees of a plaintiff who sues to correct all of that?”
Judge Torgerson asked the attorneys to brief the merits of the motion to strike language from the resolution, the question of whether the commission acted in good or bad faith, and also asked for updated affidavits of attorneys fees should the court rule that one party ought to pay for the attorney fees of the other party.
At the May 11 special commission meeting the county did consider two different resolutions on the agenda with two different ‘whereas’ statements.
Resolution one featured ‘whereas’ statements with background on the appointment of the acting attorney dating back to March 17, 2022.
Resolution two featured ‘whereas’ statements with background information dating to the 1950s, including information about previous lawsuits the county lost while Craig Halls and Kendall Laws were the county attorney.
The second resolution was submitted by Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy.
County Administrator Mack McDonald shared with the commission that passing resolution two could possibly result in a libel lawsuit from Halls and or Laws.
“It goes over the lawsuits of the past but it fails to include that the commissioners were the ones that gave them that direction. County attorneys don’t have the privilege and the right to enter into lawsuit or to defend the county on their own without the elected officials giving them the authority to do so.”
Commissioner Maryboy made a motion to pass the second resolution appointing Ivins.
“Again the resolution is not alleging blame it’s merely stating the facts, that’s it.”
Commissioner Bruce Adams voiced his displeasure with the resolution.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life in politics. But this is probably as bad as politics can get in this county and I think it's unmerited to instruct everybody on a history lesson dating back to whenever.”
Commissioner Willie Grayeyes said that both resolutions contained history.
“The resolution is just the way its presented, you’re talking about history and I guess history hurts, yes. It has been hurting for a long time, Native Americans. So we’re still here.”
Commissioner Adams stated he was in favor of appointing Brittney Ivins but against the other parts of the resolution.
The motion passed by a vote of 2-1 with Grayeyes and Maryboy in favor and Adams opposed.
The commission also held discussions about appointing legal representation ahead of the court appearance on May 16.