Frustrated Wayne County attorney resigns, publicly explains reasons to counter ‘outrageous rumors’

Wayne County • After rumors, attorney says in public letter that she had an ethical responsibility to leave post.

There have been rumors in southern Utah that former Wayne County Attorney LeEllen McCartney wanted to put to rest.

No, she didn't resign her elected post after a fight with the sheriff on the side of the road. No, she didn't quit in exchange for a guilty plea from a defendant. And, no, she didn't quit her job over a year before the end of her term because she wanted more money.

McCartney instead said she left after tense relations with the Wayne County Commission, which she said failed to provide her support to improve the office, ignored her legal advice and, she said, told her to drop a case against a friend's son.

In a July 6 letter in the Escalante-based Insider newspaper, McCartney said she had an ethical responsibility to resign.

"The Utah State Bar's Rules of Ethics require me to represent my clients 'zealously,' " she wrote. "If I am not provided the tools to do so, it is necessary for me based on my ethics to terminate that representation. Unfortunately, I had to make that choice here."

McCartney wrote that she was making her grievances public "after hearing a number of false and frankly outrageous rumors" and to explain why she resigned to those who voted for her.

She wrote that one of the commissioners, whom she didn't name, told her to drop a case against his friend.

"As county attorney, I was responsible for criminal prosecutions. The County Commission has nothing to do with prosecutions, other than providing funding for necessary programs," she wrote. "However, after a friend of a commissioner complained that his son had a ticket, I was 'directed' to drop a perfectly legal case. I refused to do so, since the commissioner's interference in the case was extremely improper."

McCartney declined to elaborate further on her decision to resign effective July 1, telling The Salt Lake Tribune that the commissioners were her former clients and she couldn't comment.

In her letter, McCartney wrote that most of her reasons for quitting were "personal" but made clear her frustrations were directed at the commission, not other elected county officials.

She said the commission "repeatedly" ignored her advice about keeping public meetings open to the public and that they often sought legal advice from outside attorneys.

McCartney said she provided most of her office supplies and spent much of her time doing administrative tasks that could be performed by a part-time assistant. But when she asked for an assistant, she said, she was rebuffed by the commission.

The commissioners — Newell Harward, Stanley Wood and Dennis Blackburn — didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. The county hired Emery County Attorney Michael Olsen after McCartney's resignation, which is allowed by state law if counties don't have qualified or interested candidates residing in the county.