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Utah's Right to Know
Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Lawyer wants disciplinary records on Utah Highway Patrol trooper

The State Records Committee will decide tomorrow whether a defense attorney can see a Utah Highway Patrol trooper’s personnel records.

The committee will hear an appeal from Sandra Senn, an attorney representing Rande A. Lee, who was charged with driving under the influence, failing to operate a car in a single lane and driving 30 mph in a 25-mph zone in early 2012. Senn sought personnel records on Trooper David Wurtz, including disciplinary and training records, which she said could help her client.

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The Department of Public Safety released a 2009 disciplinary report on Wurtz, showing he received a three-day unpaid suspension for deleting 36 incident reports without completing them. Probationary reports from 2006 and 2007 also noted Wurtz’s problems with spelling and grammar in reports, driving in a less-than-safe manner to a fatal accident, putting himself in danger by not asking someone he pulled over to remove his hands from his pockets, and bluntly asking a driver he pulled over if she had been drinking.

But the department held back other records, citing a provision in the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) that says the records are protected, except for disciplinary reports where the discipline has been upheld and the appeals have been exhausted.

Senn, in her filing with the records committee, compared the UHP’s refusal to hand over the disciplinary records to the patrol’s reluctance to release information on recently fired Trooper Lisa Steed. Two judges had found that Steed lied on the witness stand and a memo surfaced accusing her of falsifying a report in a DUI case.

Steed is being investigated by the FBI, and some of those she had pulled over are suing her and the UHP, claiming they were falsely accused of driving under the influence.

"It is entirely possible that in the Lane DUI case, materials concerning Trooper Wurtz’s background are being withheld for an improper purpose, the same as they were withheld in Trooper Steed’s case. Or maybe not," Senn wrote. "But the state has refused every attempt to have someone other than UHP employees or a UHP lawyer make the decision about what should be produced."

The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Courtyard Meeting Room at the Utah State Archives, 346 S. Rio Grande St., in Salt Lake City.

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