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Rolly: GOP activist wins judgment against party officer

Published March 7, 2014 7:09 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The vice chairman of the Utah County Republican Party has withdrawn his formal complaint against a party activist after a judge ruled he had slandered her and her attorney threatened to sue the whole party if the allegations against his client continued.

Just call it more love and kisses among the Utah County GOP.

Orem Justice Court Judge Pro Tem Mark D. Eddy ruled that Vice Chairman Daryl Acumen slandered and libeled Julie Blaney when he accused her of improperly diverting contributions to the party to her own bank account. Acumen made the accusations in writing to the party's executive committee and verbally in meetings of the party's central committee.

"The evidence before the court shows that statements published by the defendant included allegations against the plaintiff for misappropriation of Republican Party funds, embezzlement and, more generally, the diversion of funds," Eddy wrote. "The court finds [those allegations] were false."

Eddy added the false statements were libelous because Acumen had access to information showing Blaney had not improperly diverted funds, yet he continued to make the allegations.

Acumen said he is appealing the ruling to 4th District Court, but decided not to go ahead with a formal complaint about Blaney to the party's executive committee after Blaney's attorney, Matthew Duffin, threatened to sue all the officers if they allowed Acumen to continue making the allegations.

"It's just not worth it," Acumen said, adding that he will make his case on appeal.

"Neither I, nor my client will put up with further publication of these false facts in any [Utah County Republican Party] meetings," Duffin wrote to the party officers.

"To say it more clearly, the UCRP must control what Mr. Acumen is allowed to say in his official capacity as the UCRP Vice Chairman or the UCRP will be liable for what he says."

The conflict began last summer when Blaney, a longtime activist in the Utah County Republican Party, was asked to oversee the party's summer picnic, using a budget of $4,500.

Blaney said in an affidavit to the court that Acumen disagreed with her efforts to focus the theme of the picnic on the U.S. Constitution, claiming that nobody would come. Blaney also said in the affidavit that Acumen didn't want to open the picnic with a prayer or flag ceremony.

Much of Acumen's accusations about diversion of funds center around a $1,000 contribution from businessman Mark Patey. Acumen claimed in meetings and in his written complaint that Blaney had the check written to her and put it in her personal account.

But Patey said in his affidavit that his contribution was never intended for the Republican Party; it was made to help cover production costs of hundreds of tablet-sized U.S. Constitutions that would be distributed at the Utah County "Freedom Concert" as part of the picnic.

Acumen had claimed that Patey had made the contribution to Blaney so he could speak, along with Sen. Mike Lee, at the event.

"I don't pay to speak at events," Patey wrote in his affidavit. "[I] normally get paid to speak."

Eddy wrote he was most persuaded in making the judgment against Acumen by the affidavit of party secretary Joey Smith.

"Smith states that prior to the event, Mr. Patey's contribution to the publication of the constitutional pamphlets was discussed and the matter of his speaking at the event was approved by the executive committee," Eddy wrote.

Smith's affidavit also made it clear that Blaney had done nothing without the knowledge and approval of the executive committee, the judge concluded.

Acumen had first made his complaints to the party's audit committee and raised concerns about Blaney being a member of that committee.

The chairman of the audit committee was Duffin, who took umbrage at Acumen's "slanderous" accusations and later became Blaney's attorney in the lawsuit against the vice chairman.

Blaney asked for and received a financial judgment of $1. —