[Moab Sun News file photo]

Former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson’s lawsuit against five citizens is a violation of state law, an abuse of the legal process and a waste of their time and money, an attorney for two of the five defendants said in court filings.

Defense attorney Steve Russell is asking 7th District Judge Lyle R. Anderson to award his clients compensatory and punitive damages for the costs and legal fees they’ve incurred on those grounds, among others.

Russell also claims that the lawsuit amounts to a wrongful use of civil proceedings, alleging that Davidson and her co-plaintiffs acted without probable cause – primarily to “harass and intimidate” his clients.

The judge is scheduled to hear an expedited motion for judgment for co-defendants Annie Tueller Payne and Janet Buckingham on Wednesday, Nov. 9, in the case that Davidson brought against them, as well as Grand County Council member Chris Baird; Canyon Country Zephyr Publisher Jim Stiles; and Kemmerer, Wyoming, resident Connie McMillan. Attorneys for Payne and Buckingham filed the motion.

Davidson, along with her housemate Tara Smelt and information technology consulting firm Tayo, Inc., are “demanding” a jury trial in 7th District Court to determine “reasonable” punitive and general damages against the defendants.

Their legal complaint also names the Zephyr itself.

In court documents, plaintiffs’ attorney Gregory R. Stevens of Salt Lake City has claimed that Davidson and Smelt suffered damages to their personal and professional reputations, based on the statements that the various defendants have made about them.

Among other things, the defendants have publicly questioned Davidson’s ties to Tayo, Inc., which the city hired last year on a short-term basis.

At the time that the city awarded the contract to the computer consulting firm, Davidson lived with Smelt, who was registered as the company’s agent. Niyo Pearson, who is a past associate of Davidson’s, performed the bulk of the consulting work.

In response to concerns that Baird and others raised, the city hired an independent accountant to review the matter. The firm subsequently found no evidence of procedural wrongdoing, although it noted that the scope of its investigation was limited.

Davidson moved forward with the lawsuit after the city placed her on paid administrative leave in September. The city council subsequently voted 3-1 to terminate Davidson’s three-year contract “without cause,” or for reasons that are not related to misconduct, following an outside legal counsel’s investigation of unspecified “internal issues.”

Stevens went on to allege in court documents that the defendants’ statements about Davidson caused her personal humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress, while damaging Tayo’s reputation and its ability to find work in the community.

Stevens had asked the court to reject a motion from Payne’s and Buckingham’s attorneys seeking expedited consideration for judgment on the pleadings.

But under Utah’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law, courts must hear and decide cases “as expeditiously as possible” if individuals allege that they have been improperly sued for participating in the process of government, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The judge ultimately agreed to move forward with the expedited schedule, and set the Nov. 9 court date at 3 p.m.

Attorney seeks compensatory, punitive damages in counterclaim against ex-city manager