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Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

West Jordan employee sues city, its attorneys, manager, others

By Emiley Morgan, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Aug. 11 7:30 p.m. MDT

(Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — A longtime West Jordan employee has filed a lawsuit against the city, its city manager, two of the city's attorneys and a state investigator in federal court.

Shelley Thomas, who began working for the city in 1983 and became the court clerk supervisor in 2000, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court alleging a number of issues, from civil rights violations to negligence, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. West Jordan City, City Manager Richard Davis, city attorney Jeff Robinson and deputy city attorney Stuart Williams, the state of Utah and state bureau of investigations agent Jeff Plank are all named in the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the lawsuit stems from various incidents, most of them involving an investigation into the conduct of West Jordan Justice Court Judge Ronald Kunz. Sometime before June 25, either Williams or Robinson made a criminal complaint against Kunz, alleging that he had broken the law by disseminating confidential information.

Kunz was eventually charged with unlawful dissemination of criminal history, a class B misdemeanor, but was found not guilty by West Valley Justice Court Judge Brendan McCullagh. According to the lawsuit, city attorneys and Plank repeatedly badgered Thomas to try and locate a certain case file during their investigation and that they persisted even after she couldn't locate it and the judge said he would turn it over once he had erased any personal "judge's notes" from the file.

Thomas said she never saw a subpoena for the information, even though she knew one had been issued for the "custodian of record," which would be her or Kunz. She said her requests to see the subpoena were denied by the city, but that they continued to threaten her job and badger her about the file, according to the lawsuit.

She said Plank told her to search the judge's office while Kunz was out of town. When she couldn't find them in the office and said she didn't know where they were, he "accused her of not being forthcoming with information."

"An already frightened and emotional Thomas, now accused of not cooperating, became terrified …," the lawsuit states.

A second time when Thomas attempted to search the judge's office, a judge who was filling in for Kunz noticed her anxiety and called Robinson, who yelled at the judge, the lawsuit states. Robinson apparently refused to show the judge the subpoena as well.

Robinson then called Thomas and told her that they wanted to know if Kunz had taken the file from the building and ordered her to search his office for a third time, this time under Williams' supervision, the lawsuit states. The woman was also told to search through his desk and personal items.

Eventually, the file was located in the desk. An "emotional and crying" Thomas was escorted back to Robinson's office where she told him she had intended to work for the city until her retirement.

"Thomas informed Robinson and Williams that it is not a secret that there is tension between the courts and the city attorney's office and she was tired of it," the lawsuit states.

Both Kunz and Thomas expressed their concerns to the city, but the lawsuit said that the subsequent responses did not speak to or resolve any of the issues they raised, the lawsuit states. Williams was later given a "Manager of the Year" award.

Thomas was later told that Plank indicated to state court officials they were going to pursue criminal charges against her, though they never did. According to the lawsuit, she began to have anxiety and suffer from nausea following the incidents.

She is asking for a jury trial and $500,000 in compensatory damages, with punitive damages that are three times the other damages that are awarded.

Keith Stoney, who represents Thomas and was a longtime West Valley City Justice Court judge, said tension between a city's judicial and executive branch is "not unusual," but said that to have city officials acting like enforcement and ordering illegal seizures as alleged in the suit, is. He said Thomas has stayed in her job, but filed a notice of claim last year in state court.

She never pursued her case there and there were "talks" in the meantime, Stoney said, "but when she became dissatisfied and felt the city wasn't going to even apologize, she felt obligated to do something."

He said Thomas still hopes to finish her career in West Jordan and has always excelled in her position. Stoney said she worked her way up to her administrative role, routinely gives classes and trainings to others and is always given great reviews following evaluations.

"There's no reason for someone to treat her like this and push buttons other than the executive branch trying to push its weight around with the judicial branch," he said. "In our system, there's a checks and balances within it all and some cities have come of the opinion that they can just step on the judicial branch. This tension exists in other places, it just had not gotten to this point."

A message left for Davis was not returned Monday.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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1. Tekakaromatagi
Dammam, Saudi Arabia,
Aug. 11, 2014

I don't know what the truth is. But it sounds like she may have witnesses where city attorneys yelled at a judge. People need to be treated with respect. If they didn't there needs to be some accountability.

2. My2Cents
Taylorsville, UT,
Aug. 12, 2014

I think this rift is because no one in most city governments managers are elected and held accountable to constitutional laws and values and honor. City managers are hired CEO who think they own the city and all its employees and have no accountability to the citizens and tax payers for how they run city goverment.

By all accounts the city council and mayor are the only elected governemnt and all these hired agents are bickering and fighting for control they don't have and breaking the laws. We should break away from hiring CEO to run city governments. It leads to all these problems and CEO don't think they have any restrictions with funds and fraud is a game.

It time to fire CEO and put constitutional limits and controls on all governemnt employees and fill in managers. Better yet put them all under the powers and jurisdiction of city councils and mayors. Judges are proposed by mayors and approved by city councils and accountable to them. CEO are not accountable to any elected official in govenremnt.

3. cocosweet
Sandy, UT,
Aug. 12, 2014

@My2Cents,

Sorry, but I've seen the ridiculous damage elected city officials have done (can anyone comment about the millions of dollars the county council is forcing divisions to spend to change a logo?). Continuity is needed in government and not the continuous change in policy elected officials bring. Every few years policy changes, direction can change, and certainly most elected officials are just trying to get re-elected rather than doing what is best for the county (millions of dollars to change a logo?). I believe that most government employees want to do what is right for the county, not what is expedient and at least they are trying to get re-elected every few years.

4. dwidenhouse
Pleasant Grove, UT,
Aug. 12, 2014

@ My2Cents

I work directly for a city manager and I can tell you and everyone that they are directly accountable to citizens. Citizens call all of the time and the current city manager is very responsive to their requests. City managers are hired in order to be the executor of the law. Yes, there have been scandals and shoddy work. However, please remember that the city council is responsible for picking the city manager. If you are unhappy with the current city manager, the response is not to get rid of the position but to get rid of the person. You called for them to be put under the jurisdiction of the mayor and city council. City managers ARE under their jurisdiction. They are in constant council about what is needed in the city. I'm not touting my education, but I do know what I'm talking about: I have a Bachelor's in Political Science and a Master's in Public Administration. Overall, I can assure anyone that city managers are a needed member of any city management and that most of them are emotionally and professionally invested in the well-being of their cities.

5. CAAZFR
MESA, AZ,
Aug. 12, 2014

I agree with cocosweet. Churchill (or someone) said that democracy is the worst form of government in the world except for any other form of government that has been attempted.
Local government is a representative form of democracy that combines the advantages of elected broad policy-making representatives with appointed officials who are trained in administration, long-range planning, law enforcement, public works and finance. There are checks and balances, notwithstanding the blemishes and occasional abuses. I make no judgment on the West Jordan flap--we're mostly hearing one side at this point.

Electing everyone in government has a certain nice ring to it on the surface but it's not practical and has not proven itself to be the most efficient way to run a government.