Utahn appeals dismissal of lawsuit claiming judge sexually harassed her
Denver • Appellate judges didn’t give a clear signal Thursday about whether they will reinstate a lawsuit which alleges that a former Weber County Justice Court judge sexually harassed the court administrator.
Three judges of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard conflicting arguments about whether to reopen the case, which U.S. District Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City dismissed last year.
Marcia Eisenhour made the allegation against Craig Storey in a 2010 lawsuit. She also claimed that county officials retaliated against her after she filed the lawsuit.
Eisenhour’s attorney, April Hollingsworth, contends that Benson apparently did not consider several issues that should have kept him from throwing out the lawsuit.
His decision is "devoid of the facts or the law," Hollingsworth said outside the courtroom after the appellate judges heard 30 minutes of arguments.
Attorneys for Storey and the county opposed reopening the lawsuit, contending that evidence does not support Eisenhour’s allegations. She complained to county officials about Storey’s behavior toward her soon after he confronted her in July 2008 with complaints about seriously bad job performance.
Appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch was not persuaded by an argument that no other female employee of the justice court saw inappropriate behavior by Storey.
"So some didn’t see it," Gorsuch responded.
Eisenhour claimed the county did nothing to stop the judge’s conduct, which included writing a sexually explicit poem about her, telling her he loved her, and sharing details of a dream he’d had in which she was naked. She also alleged he rubbed sexually against her.
The county investigated but found no basis for Eisenhour’s misconduct claim; an investigation by the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission resulted in 2009 in the same finding.
She contends the commission investigation was inadequate because, in part, it did not allow her witnesses to testify.
The county closed the justice court, eliminating the jobs of both Storey and Eisenhour, a few weeks after she sued. She contends officials closed the court in retaliation for the lawsuit; county officials contend they closed the court to reduce expenses.
After objecting to losing her job, Eisenhour was hired to work in the county’s animal control agency, where she is paid less than half of what she was paid at the court, Hollingsworth said. "The damages are continuing."
Benson said in his ruling a year ago that even in the most favorable light, no jury would conclude that Storey’s behavior violated Eisenhour’s constitutional rights. Benson said there was "very little, if any, specific evidence" to bolster her other claims.
The appellate judges are not expected to decide until late this year or next year whether to reopen the lawsuit.