Former city manager Rebecca Davidson is not done suing the people of Moab.
On March 21, Davidson’s attorney Gregory Stevens sent a letter to Moab Regional Hospital CEO Jennifer Sadoff, threatening to sue Sadoff for Facebook comments that he alleged were “demonstrably false” and “part of a continuing effort to sabotage Ms. Davidson.” He accused Sadoff of abusing her “position of trust and responsibility.”
“(My) clients” — Davidson, her roommate Tara Smelt, and Smelt’s business Tayo, Inc. — “are requesting that you either remove or correct your recent posts that mention them. If you decline or fail to do so, they anticipate pursuing a civil action against you,” Stevens’ letter said.
Sadoff told the Moab Sun News she will not comply with those demands.
“My legal counsel, Clyde and Snow, has reviewed all of the claims by Mr. Stevens as well as the publicly available documentation that assisted in the formation of my opinions. They have advised that there is no basis for a legal action against me related to Mr. Stevens’ allegations,” Sadoff said. “I decline to comply with the demands of Mr. Stevens’ clients. Their position is contrary to law and appears to be an improper attempt to restrict my right to express my opinions on matters of public concern.
“I am thoughtful in forming my opinions and I care a great deal about our community,” she continued. “On this matter, which involves our tax dollars and how they are being used, I shared my opinion publicly. My statements were made in my individual capacity as a longtime resident, taxpayer and concerned citizen of Moab.”
If Davidson does pursue the case, it would be her second attempt at a lawsuit based on Facebook posts. She, Smelt and Tayo, Inc., previously sued Moab residents Annie Payne and Janet Buckingham, Grand County Council member Chris Baird, Wyoming resident Connie McMillan, and Canyon Country Zephyr publisher Jim Stiles for comments made in the “Citizens for Transparency in Local Government” Facebook group and elsewhere.
That case seemed finished on Feb. 28 when Judge Lyle Anderson of the 7th District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment — ruling, effectively, that the facts of the case did not support the plaintiffs’ claims.
But Stevens appealed to the Utah Supreme Court on March 7, which deferred the case to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Attorney Steve Russell, who represented Baird, McMillan and Stiles, said he felt confident that the appeal would not change the ultimate outcome of the case.
“I think they have very little chance of winning on appeal,” Russell said. “Even if they win on appeal, that means it comes back.” In that scenario, he said, he thought the merits of the case favored his clients.
Baird, McMillan, and Stiles will be represented in appellate court by attorneys Russell Fericks and Barry Scholl of the Salt Lake City firm Richards Brandt Miller Nelson.
Russell said that he had not previously heard of Stevens’ letter to Sadoff, but that given the similarity to the case he argued, he was skeptical that another lawsuit would be successful.
“The sad thing is, is that she’s costing people … a lot of money to clear themselves,” Russell said.
“I’d give her very close to zero chance of prevailing on that, although I haven’t seen the comments,” he said.
Sadoff’s attorneys, Matthew Steward and Shannon Zollinger of the firm Clyde Snow, seem to agree: At the conclusion of a seven-page, point-by-point rebuttal to Stevens, they wrote, “Please be advised that the allegations against Ms. Sadoff will be subject to immediate dismissal on the same or substantially similar grounds as the Baird, et al lawsuit.”
Federal suit claims Davidson was a whistle-blower
As Davidson continues one defamation case and threatens another, she is also engaged in a federal case against the mayor and the city government. Her complaint in that case, filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Utah on March 9, alleges that her firing in September 2016 was an illegal retaliation for revealing problems in the city’s police department.
“The Mayor did not take appropriate remedial action to correct or otherwise address the issues raised by Ms. Davidson but, instead, sought to protect his friend, the Chief of Police, and members of the Police Department,” the complaint states.
The complaint asks for approximately $2 million in damages, and also asks that Mayor Dave Sakrison be held liable for “punitive damages … at least equal to three times’ actual damages.”
Austin Riter, an attorney with the Salt Lake City firm Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless, will be the city’s legal counsel in the case. In a written response to the original notice of claim that Davidson’s attorney sent the mayor in December, Riter contended Davidson’s firing was not based upon her reporting of police misconduct, and was a lawful termination of an at-will employee.
Gregory Stevens did not respond to repeated requests for comment on any of the current or potential cases in which he represents Davidson.
Green River turns down Davidson’s contract bid
Amidst the legal brouhaha, Davidson has also sought new municipal employment in the area. She responded to a request for proposal put out by the city of Green River to the north, offering to provide consulting services for the city’s strategic plan update. According to the approved minutes of the Jan. 19 city council meeting, council members were initially interested in contracting with Sagira & Associates — though no such business was actually registered in the state of Utah until Feb. 1.
“Originally, the city council determined that that was the entity they wanted to hire,” Green River City Recorder Conae Black said.
However, according to unapproved meeting minutes from Feb. 14, council member Travis Bacon conducted further research into Sagira & Associates — of which Davidson is the registered incorporator, director, secretary, treasurer, president and vice president — and learned about Davidson’s disputes with the city of Moab. The Green River council in February ultimately chose to award the consulting contract to another entity.
“We are not contracted with [Sagira & Associates] for any services,” Black said.
Davidson continues claims in state, federal courts; Seeks employment in Green River