Riverton City Mayor Trent Staggs found himself ensnared in a bizarre legal mess recently. To disentangle himself, upon his lawyer’s advice, Staggs drove more than six hours round trip to Vernal to pay his own $500 bail and resolve an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Staggs didn’t stop there. Earlier this month he filed suit for a wrongful warrant with the help of attorney and Draper Mayor Troy Walker.
Tuesday, Walker said the suit had been settled for what he deemed a “fair amount" and he’s just awaiting payment before dropping the court action.
Staggs was informed of the civil bench warrant against him last year in a personal call from Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera. After consulting with Walker, Staggs learned that he had been named — inaccurately, he says — as defendant in a debt collection case against VivaRRT LLC, where he was the acting registered agent.
Both Staggs and Walker say they are stumped as to how Staggs was listed as defendant in a case where the company officials should have been listed by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Dennis L. Judd. Walker said that, due to the circumstances of the case, it “had to have been Judd” who listed Staggs. And, he says that he has a theory as to why Staggs’ name was used at all.
“My position is that this was an effort to use his [Staggs’] political position as leverage. They named him as a party and they got a warrant against him. I don’t know how they were able to do that. It’s sloppy debt collection at best,” Walker said. “The problem is: it cost my client some time and some money and effort to deal with it, and I want that dealt with. It’s a matter of principle.”
“I know how he feels — I’m a mayor, I feel his pain. This should have been done right and this should have never happened to him.”
Judd did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Walker said before Monday’s settlement, he attempted to resolve the situation with Judd, but that he “can’t get any action out of him.”
Stubbs & Stubbs Oil Field Construction, Inc., Judd’s client, is an oil field construction company based out of Vernal. The family-operated business was founded in 1978, and their general contracting projects send them on business around the West.
VivaRRT is a subsidiary of Vivakor, an oil field extraction and remediation technology company. Staggs is Vivakor’s strategic development adviser.
In 2017, Judd was representing Stubbs & Stubbs Oil Field Construction, Inc., in the case against VivaRRT LLC, where Staggs’ was listed as the registered agent. Staggs said he passed the complaint along to VivaRRT members when he was initially notified and wiped his hands of the matter.
“I was acting as a registered agent for a company and they tried to force something upon me. They knew who I was and what position I was in," Staggs said. “I should not have been named in that case."
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the debtor should be notified with a written “validation notice” informing them of how much they owe, the creditor’s name and how to dispute or seek verification of the debt before a debt collector can file a court case. Staggs and Walker both say that the Riverton mayor received no notice when the plaintiffs, Stubbs & Stubbs, obtained a default judgment against VivaRRT and named Staggs, personally, as a defendant.
“How he decided Trent [Staggs] was a defendant - I don’t know. Maybe it was deliberate, I don’t know,” Walker said. “One of the things you’ve got to do is make sure you know who the party is. I’m trying to protect the reputation of the mayor... I think he’s entitled to his reputation to be clear when he didn’t do anything.”
Both mayors say that Stubbs & Stubbs had a full understanding of Staggs’ political position and the tense political relationship he had at the time with the sheriff. Staggs and his city council was in the midst of deciding if Riverton would stay with the Unified Police Department, overseen by the sheriff, or break off and form its own police department.
In his filing of Staggs’ wrongful warrant claim, Walker states that “the defendants specifically contacted the Sheriff in this matter to give her something salacious in which to threaten and intimidate Mr. Staggs regarding his reputation during the discussions.”
But, it didn’t quite go that way, and the sheriff says her involvement was more an attempt to provide a heads-up. Rivera said she was concerned about helping the mayor save face in a soon-to-be public situation where an officer could have arrested or publicly served papers on an unwitting Staggs.
“We [the Unified Police Department] serve the civil papers for Salt Lake County and most of them come through our office,” Rivera said. “I called to let him know out of courtesy. Rather than having an officer go to his house or his work and serve him the papers, I called to say, ‘Hey, there’s a warrant out for your arrest.’”
Since paying his bail and resolving the warrant for his arrest, Walker said that Staggs has been refunded the $500 charge. His claim also had sought reimbursement for the travel, lodging, and attorney costs he incurred from being named in the case.