Commission appoints Brittney Ivins as Acting Attorney, but another lawsuit may be coming
San Juan County Commission selected Brittney Ivins to act as the acting county attorney through the end of 2022.
Despite making the appointment of one of four county attorney applicants at the special May 11 meeting, there was an indication that the county may still end up in court due to the language in the resolution passed to appoint Ivins.
The commission had two 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.
Both resolutions can be found at the bottom of this report.
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 attornies 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.”
Deputy County Attorney Alex Goble shared that in a conversation Craig Halls indicated that he would not drop his suit if the county were to pass resolution two.
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 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 a scheduled court appearance on Monday May 16.
Additional information from the May 11 meeting to come.
During their May 5 special meeting, the commission met for just under 20 minutes. At the meeting, the commission voted to hold another special meeting on May 11 to appoint the acting attorney.
On May 3rd, 7th 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. A preliminary injunction hearing was scheduled for May 16.
Despite expressing frustration with the Judge's order, on May 5 Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy was committed to making a decision at the May 11 meeting.
“The applicants that we have right now, we’re going to consider that from here to then. At that meeting, we will pick the choice of our attorney that we think would be the best candidate to represent us.”
At the May 5 meeting a motion by Adams to name Alex Goble as the acting county attorney failed without a second.
Goble is one of the four San Juan County attornies to apply for the interim position following the March resignation of County Attorney Kendall Laws.
Goble is also the only candidate for the position on the ballot for the November General Election, meaning his four-year elected term would start on January 1, 2023.
Adams cited the need for consistency in his motion to appoint Goble.
“I think that consistency is important in the County Attorney's office and we should appoint him to be the interim county attorney.”
Maryboy’s motion to schedule the May 11 meeting was met with questions by Adams who asked why the commission couldn’t make a decision that day, knowing that Goble would be the County Attorney in January 2023.
Maryboy responded saying he wanted time to review the four applicants. Maryboy also spoke about Goble.
“The gentleman was the deputy at the time when Kendall (Laws) was the attorney. You know my position with Kendall and at that point in time he’s made some decisions and pointed out some positions during the time when we were in court about redistricting. I don’t trust him as much, I never trusted the guy who left the office, so my position is to consider the attornies that we have listed at that time. I would have a considerable amount of time to choose the attorney that I think would be the best candidate for the county.”
Among the four candidates for the county attorney position were Goble, Craig Halls, Brittney Ivins, and Daniel Anderson.
Halls and Ivins are among eight county residents who filed a suit against members of the San Juan County Commission, Clerk, and staff in regards to the appointment of an interim county attorney.
The suit alleges that “the county legislative body openly rejected all four applicants in violation of state law”.
The plaintiff's request asks that the court declare that the applications received by San Juan County were valid and order the county commission to appoint one of the four applicants.
According to state code, for a vacant county attorney position in a county where less than 15 licensed attorneys reside, the county clerk must send a letter to all attorneys in the county informing them of the vacant position, invite them to apply, and inform them they have ten days from the day after the letter was sent to apply.
If three or fewer attorneys in the county apply for the position, The commission can choose to consider attorneys who do not reside in the county.
While the county received four applicants, both the county Democratic Party and two of the three commissioners did not make an appointment from the four applicants citing a lack of application materials, or ‘bona fide’ applicants.
In response on April 19, the commission passed a resolution by a vote of 2-1 to allow Utah attorneys that live outside of the county to apply for the acting county attorney position.
Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes voted in favor of the resolution, and Commissioner Bruce Adams voted against.
The resolution passed despite an outside legal opinion from the Kane County Attorney. Subsequently, the office of the Utah Attorney General echoed the Kane County Attorney saying that “four individuals responded to the letter sent by the County Clerk in the manner directed by the County Clerk”.
The letter continued,
“The County Clerk properly exercised his discretion in identifying how a qualified individual could ‘apply’ and then designated the four interested individuals as ‘applicants.’”