Election of Willie Grayeyes challenged in Seventh District Court
by Ryan Collins
The election of Willie Grayeyes to the San Juan County Commission has been challenged by his Republican opponent. Kelly Laws filed the complaint in the Seventh District Court on Dec. 28, 2018, five days before Grayeyes is set to take the oath of office.
Laws held a town hall meeting on Jan. 2 that was privately arranged with some 30 attendees at the Hideout Community Center in Monticello to announce his complaint to contest the 900-805 victory by Grayeyes in the November general election.
Laws is represented by Peter Stirba of Stirba P.C. in Salt Lake City, according to court documents. Laws is listed as the petitioner in the case and Grayeyes is listed as the respondent. Stirba has been involved in two high profile cases in San Juan County. He privately represented Sheriff Rick Eldredge in 2017 and then Commissioner Phil Lyman as a public defender in 2014, at the beginning of the Recapture Canyon legal issues.
The 15-page complaint filed with the court claims, “Mr. Grayeyes is a resident of the state of Arizona, not of the state of Utah, thus he is ineligible to run for, or serve, as a San Juan County Commissioner.”
Within the complaint, which is attached to the article on Sjrnews.com, there are 39 general allegations, the last of which states, “In light of the foregoing, Mr. Grayeyes is a resident of Arizona, not Utah. Accordingly, Petitioner Kelly Laws respectfully requests that the Court annul and set aside the election and declare the San Juan County Commissioner Seat for District 2 vacant.”
During the meeting on Jan. 2, Laws said there are two ways to go about the situation.
“This should be, if the Lieutenant Governor had done his job as he should under what he’s being paid big bucks for, this would be Willie Grayeyes against the State of Utah. But the way it comes down, it is now Kelly Laws, San Juan County residents against Willie Grayeyes and the State of Utah. It is just that simple,” Laws said. “The reason for that is there is no law that governs this really. There are two ways of challenging this. One of them is through the Lieutenant Governors office and one of them is through Seventh District Court.”
The complaint lists a “Prayer of Relief” which states: Petitioner hereby demands that judgment be entered in his favor, and against Respondent, as follows:
A. For an order annulling and setting aside the election;
B. For an order declaring that the office of San Juan County Commissioner, District 2 is vacant;
C. For an order declaring that Mr. Grayeyes’ principal place of residence is outside of Utah;
D. For an order declaring that Mr. Grayeyes is ineligible to hold office in Utah;
E. For all of Petitioners’ costs and reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses in connection with litigating this action as may be allowed at law or in equity;
F. For such other and further relief as the Court deems just, equitable, or proper.
The complaint filed by Laws is not affiliated in any way with the county, as it is a private suit brought forward by a San Juan County resident. In addition to the legal complaint, Laws stated he has filed a petition with the office of Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox. In the petition, which Laws read at the town hall meeting, he alleges that voter fraud has been committed by Grayeyes in his bid for District 2 San Juan County Commissioner. Laws claimed Grayeyes does not live in the state of Utah, let alone San Juan County as required by state code and therefore has committed a significant violation of Utah election law.
“I’ve attached verification of this allegation in the form of a report from San Juan County Sheriff’s Deputy who investigated this fraudulent act within days of Mr. Grayeyes filing for candidacy,” Laws read of the petition letter. “I understand that there is also bodycam footage of this investigation which was denied by GRAMA fort request. However, I’m sure you could get it from San Juan County as part of your investigation. I’m confident that when you do your own investigation you will find numerous residents, many of whom live in Navajo Mountain where Mr. Grayeyes claimed to live, that will add firsthand knowledge of his fraudulent act of lack of residency.”
In the complaint filed with the Seventh District Court, there are numerous references to a home owned by Grayeyes in Page, Arizona. The filing said that the home is listed as his “primary residence” on property tax documents. There are also references to a house in Tuba City, Arizona where Laws believes Grayeyes resides.
“Mr. Grayeyes has been an Arizona resident for nearly 40 years,” the complaint states. “He established his Arizona residency in 1981 when he purchased a home in Page, Arizona as a joint tenant with his late wife. Mr. Grayeyes still owns the home and pays property taxes on it. Mr. Grayeyes also sometimes stays with his girlfriend in Tuba City, Arizona. He also maintains an office in Tuba.”
At the Hideout Community Center, Laws repeatedly put the onus on San Juan County residents to help carry the burden of the substantial legal fees that will be involved with the legal action.
“I’ve been able to meet the first $30,000 of this suit, this petition. I don’t want to call it a suit. This petition...” Laws said. “At some point in time, I’m not going to mortgage my house and my farm and everything else for San Juan County. I’m just telling you that right now, I’m not going to do it. When it gets to the point that we have no more money, we’re stopping. It’s just that simple...I really think we are looking at a $100,000 before this is done and it’s got to come from the citizenry because it’s our battle.”
The Lieutenant Governor’s Office responded to a request for a comment on the new litigation by stating they have a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Peter Stirba, who Laws deferred comment to on the complaint filed Dec. 28, 2018, additionally deferred comment.
Commissioner-elect Grayeyes is aware of the pending litigation. According to Laws, Grayeyes will be served in the near future. Once served, Grayeyes will have three days to respond to the court and will be given a chance to make claims of any campaign wrongdoing from Laws. If Grayeyes makes a claim to the court of campaign fraud from Laws, Laws will have 10 days to respond to the court and provide documentation in response to any allegations.
“Yes, changes for the positive become hard to accept,” Grayeyes said in an exclusive interview with the San Juan Record. “My question is why was I not notified or invited since I was the subject of discussion, but rather Commissioner Adams was invited. Nonetheless, the cost of legal works for San Juan County still remains outstanding to date.”
Despite the complaint brought forth by Laws, Grayeyes is scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 7 at the San Juan County Courthouse.
The complaint by Laws follows a ruling by U.S. District Judge David Nuffer in August that the rights of Grayeyes were violated by San Juan County Clerk John David Nielson through a backdated voter complaint regarding his residency in San Juan County. Nuffer ruled that Nielson overstepped his role by taking on a prosecutorial role, an investigative role, and directing Wendy Black (who filed the initial voter complaint questioning Grayeyes residency) to complete a voter challenge.
Grayeyes was placed back on the ballot after the ruling by Nuffer in August. Nuffer ruled on the process used to disqualify Grayeyes and did not rule on the residency question.