The Utah Court of Appeals in Salt Lake City is upholding Moab’s 7th District Court decision that comments alleged to have been made about former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson are not defamatory, but are protected under the First Amendment right to free speech.
The defamation suite proceeded to appeals court after Davidson lost in 7th District Court in 2017 to the defendants she named in the case: Chris Baird (current Grand County Clerk and former Grand County Council member), Wyoming resident Connie McMillan and Canyon Country Zephyr publisher Jim Stiles.
The appellate court’s final decision on the case was filed on Jan. 10. Oral arguments were taken in the appeals court on Sept. 12. Judge Lyle R. Anderson said at the time that he disagreed with Davidson’s claims after her attorney, Gregory Stevens, failed to show the judge evidence of defamation. In the appellate court’s legal analysis of the case, the judges wrote that Davidson and her attorney “nowhere provided — not in their complaint, their summary judgment briefing below, or in their briefs on appeal — a comprehensive list of the statements they assert were defamatory,” and instead made references to comments.
Baird told the Moab Sun News on Jan. 11 that the case “cuts right to the core of free speech, and the role that free speech plays in manifesting the most basic and sacrosanct tenets of the U.S. Constitution.”
“The Utah Court of Appeals decision reflects the poignancy of this particular case for every citizen who feels disparaged by their local government and has something to say about it,” Baird wrote in an email. “It was no easy decision for me to become involved in these issues. … even though it’s been very stressful, and a lot of trouble, I do believe that it was all for the better. I hate to imagine what the City of Moab would be today had our community not responded to the obvious unethical and incapable leadership of that time.”
Free speech applies to comments made about former city manager