The vice chairman of the Utah County Republican Party slandered a GOP volunteer by falsely accusing her of embezzlement, but the comment was made in a meeting of fellow party members with shared concern, so it was privileged and not actionable.
That was the ruling last week of 4th District Court Judge Christine S. Johnson in an appeal by party Vice Chairman Daryl Acumen of an earlier defamation verdict against him from Orem Justice Court Judge Pro Tem Mark D. Eddy.
The justice court judge had found Acumen guilty of slandering volunteer Julie Blaney during a meeting of Republicans, including Blaney, that had been called to "clear the air."
Acumen also had addressed concerns about Blaney’s actions in an email to party members and in a formal complaint filed with the Utah County GOP Executive Committee. But he didn’t use the term "embezzlement" in those two accounts.
The judge’s ruling is the latest chapter in the modern-day Hatfield vs. McCoy saga that is the Utah County Republican Party.
There are two basic groups of loyalists who hold positions in the party’s central and executive committees, and they don’t like each other.
Depending on whom you talk to, the divide is between the "wackos" and the "normal people" or between the "principled conservatives" and the "elitists" trying to hold onto power.
Blaney is part of the "wacko/principled conservative" group; Acumen represents the "normal people/elitist" group.
The case stemmed from a GOP-sponsored picnic that Blaney had been asked to lead. Under her supervision, the picnic morphed into a concert and was moved indoors at Utah Valley University. The band and rental costs pushed the event over budget, but Blaney and other planners believed those fees could be covered by contributions.
One contribution came from Mark Patey. He wrote a check to Blaney, who put it in her personal business account. Blaney then used that money to pay for hundreds of U.S. Constitution pamphlets to be distributed at the event with the extras becoming party property.
Acumen was concerned about the commingling of funds and the irregular way they were used. There also was disagreement about the event’s purpose — a dispute that cuts to the heart of the party split.
Acumen saw the event as a recruitment venue for new GOP volunteers. Blaney, a self-described devout constitutionalist, saw it as an educational tool.
In the end, Johnson’s verdict meant Blaney had to repay the $1 the justice court judge ordered Acumen to pay Blaney in damages.
More GOP intrigue • State Auditor John Dougall had an interesting slam against Gov. Gary Herbert last week.
After Herbert, at his monthly KUED news conference, criticized other governors for not defending their states’ same-sex-marriage bans, Dougall posted this on his Facebook page:
"Gov. Herbert says he shouldn’t ‘pick and choose’ which laws he will enforce. What should he do if he believes a law violates the U.S. or UT constitutions? Our oath of office is to ‘... support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this state ...’ not to obey every statute passed by Congress or the Legislature or every regulation passed by a government agency."
The auditor going out of his way to criticize the state’s chief executive, who is a member of his own Republican Party, is unusual. Those kinds of criticisms usually are reserved for Democrats. But there is an intriguing history here.
Dougall, a former state representative from Utah County, defeated longtime incumbent auditor Auston Johnson in the 2012 Republican Primary, with many of his political contributions coming from sources controlled by House Speaker Becky Lockhart.
It is widely believed Lockhart, R-Provo, will challenge Herbert in the 2016 Republican Convention. So maybe Dougall is returning the favor. Dougall’s office is set to release an audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Herbert’s baby, and the governor’s office is expecting it will be critical.
One of GOED’s top officials, Chris Conabee, managing director of corporate recruitment and incentives, has already given his notice of resignation.
Another issue for Lockhart, who has called Herbert an "inaction figure," to blast the governor with maybe?
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