Judge Torgerson says Commissioners acted in “bad faith”
San Juan County Commissioners acted in “bad faith” during the process to appoint an interim San Juan County Attorney.
That was the strongly-worded ruling of Seventh District Judge Don Torgerson during a June 22 hearing when he stated that Commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes, “…exercised their political power to publicly settle personal grudges and grievances in their positions as San Juan County Commissioners.”
At the hearing, Judge Torgerson stated that Commissioners Maryboy and Grayeyes “ignored the advice of the acting county attorney, delayed the process, executed a resolution with inflammatory language, delayed the appointment of an interim county attorney, and hindered the process for their own ideological advantage intended to circumvent the legal process that is established by statute and did so for personal gain.”
The court hearing was triggered after four local applicants for the position of acting county attorney filed a lawsuit in Seventh District Court. The lawsuit alleged that the Commissioners were ignoring state statues in the process of selecting a replacement for the elected County Attorney, Kendall Laws, after Laws resigned to accept another position.
After the lawsuit was filed, Judge Torgerson placed a temporary restraining order on a Commission motion to seek additional applicants for the positions from out-of-county attorneys.
One of the four initial applicants, Brittany Ivins, was eventually selected by the Commission on May 11 to be the Acting County Attorney.
The appointment of Ivins was made with a strongly-worded Commission resolution that included information about previous lawsuits against the county that occurred when Craig Halls and Kendall Laws were serving as the county attorney.
At the hearing, Halls argued that the resolution “is not factually accurate. It says the county attorneys are totally at fault for all of the voting issues… These acts were acts of the Commission and not of the County Attorney.”
When the resolution was initially approved, Commissioner Maryboy stated, “Again, the resolution is not alleging blame. It’s merely stating the facts, that’s it.”
While making his ruling, Judge Torgerson said, “The resolution is in bad taste, regardless of the audience that is reading it.”
Judge Torgerson said he does not have the authority or jurisdiction to redact the inflammatory portions of the resolution, adding “That would be the court sticking its nose into business that it shouldn’t be involved with, in the same way the county commission here stuck its nose into the county attorney appointment process in a way that it should not have done.”
Judge Torgerson did not award attorney fees, stating that the “bad-faith” actions of the Commissioners were before the lawsuits were filed and, as a result, were not eligible for attorney fees.
However, the Judge added that the estimated $15,000 in legal fees to the county “are entirely unnecessary and would not have been incurred but for the bad faith conduct of Commissioners Maryboy and Grayeyes.”
While Torgerson’s ruling did not award attorney fees and did not order a change in the wording of the inflammatory Commission resolution, his words may have left the Commission with a serious liability issue and may have stripped the Commissioners of their governmental immunity in the matter.
Ivins will serve until the end of 2022, when an elected county Attorney will take the position. Deputy County Attorney Alex Goble will be the only person on the November general election ballot.