Willie Grayeyes nearing settlement with county
According to the Navajo Times, commissioner-elect Willie Grayeyes has asked that his lawsuit against the state of Utah and San Juan County be dropped.
The alleged decision comes on the heels of a 900-805 victory in the newly redistricted District 2 special county commissioner race against his Republican opponent Kelly Laws of Blanding.
It is uncertain, though, as to what is meant exactly by “asks,” as Grayeyes was unavailable for comment on the subject despite multiple attempts to reach him.
Grayeyes and San Juan County Clerk/Auditor John David Nielsen met with their respective attorneys in Moab before Federal Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead on Nov. 9. Grayeyes was represented by Steven Boos, and Nielsen was represented by Blake Hamilton.
The purpose of the mediation meeting was to discuss a possible settlement agreement to determine payment for Grayeyes’ attorney fees as it related to Wendy Black’s initial voter complaint challenging Grayeyes’ residency and voter eligibility.
According to Hamilton, that challenge was investigated by Nielsen and that challenge had to be on a specific form.
“John David didn’t have the form because it was the first time he had this type of voter challenge,” Hamilton said. “So he sent Wendy (Black) the voter challenge form.
“She completed it, and he signed it. He just put it down as the same date as she initially made the challenge. Even though he signed the document much later. That’s the issue that they are trying to bring up.”
The possible settlement with Grayeyes would signal an admission of guilt on the side of the county, leaving taxpayers liable for Boos’ lawyer fees.
“We appeared at a settlement conference,” Hamilton said. “The settlement conference was held pursuant to federal court rules and in most cases you have the opportunity to attend a settlement conference, so in this case we requested the opportunity to have a settlement conference in front of Magistrate Judge (Dustin B.) Pead and that’s what happened that day.”
Hamilton said he thinks “we are real close” to reaching an agreement on attorney fees in the case.
When contacted about the “case” which is still ongoing as of press time, San Juan County Clerk/Auditor John David Nielsen referred all comment to Hamilton, who works for Durham Jones & Pinegar out of Salt Lake City.
“Our office is working closely with the Attorney General’s Office (AOG) to review the situation and all applicable code sections. The Lt. Governor wants to to make sure any steps taken follow the law exactly. Once the AOG has completed their review, we will set up a meeting with the county commission to discuss what steps could be taken,” Director of Elections with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Justin Lee said.
Grayeyes originally filed the suit June 20. His attorney, Steven Boos, told the Salt Lake Tribune in June that, “San Juan County has long denied the right of Native Americans to fully participate in the election process.” Mr. Boos was unavailable for comment when attempts to reach him were made.
A federal judge ruled in December to vacate all county commission and school board members of their seats and hold a special redistricting election this November in a separate case. Voter numbers in District 2 were relatively close with nearly 53 percent voting for Grayeyes and 47 percent for Laws.
The newly reformed district is comprised of a native population of roughly 65 percent and 34.4 percent non-native.
On Nov. 14, the Court of Appeals in Denver had a hearing regarding the appeal by San Juan County of the December 2017 ruling to redistrict the county. Jesse Trentadue was present to submit arguments on behalf of the county as their official representation in the case.
San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws said although the county has presented all of their arguments to the 10th Circuit of Appeals, a decision may not be reached until March of next year.