Former Utah GOP chairman says lawsuits, tax liens and arrest warrant against him don’t ‘reflect the whole story’

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) James Evans, former chair of the Utah Republican Party, uses a megaphone to excite chanting as two competing rallies spar near Rep. Ben McAdams' office in West Jordan, one seeking to support McAdams and one to criticize him for supporting the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

James Evans, the former chairman of the Utah Republican Party, faces tens of thousands of dollars in tax liens and legal claims for unpaid debts, some of which led to a warrant for his arrest last month, according to records in state court.

Evans says those claims are related to payday lending businesses that he no longer owns but remains associated with, and that he’s confident his name will ultimately be removed from the legal actions against him.

“Just the cold record of what you see doesn’t reflect the whole story,” Evans told The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday.

In one lawsuit, Evans and the payday loan company Chekline are accused of failing to repay a $26,500 loan from Michael Clara, a community activist and former member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education.

After failing to attend a hearing related to that lawsuit last month, a bench warrant was issued for Evans’ arrest.

Clara, who himself faces multiple felony charges related to a shooting incident last month, declined to comment on his lawsuit against Evans.

“I would not want to comment until the issue is resolved,” Clara said, “which I anticipate would occur in January.”

Evans said he was unaware of the court hearing that led to his bench warrant, because he is no longer involved with Chekline. He said the warrant has been resolved with the courts, and that he encouraged Clara to file the lawsuit to preserve Clara’s claims against Evans’ former company.

Evans said his legal matter with Clara is not adversarial. He went on to defend Clara on the issue of his felony charges, which Evans described as a potential case of prosecutorial overreach.

Clara is accused of firing a gun several times at a stolen vehicle that had struck his car, which resulted in a bullet passing through the rear window and windshield of an uninvolved vehicle containing a couple and their 12-year-old daughter. Clara and his attorney have described the shooting as an act of self-defense.

“I’m a huge supporter of Michael,” Evans said. “A lot of us are going to be there for him.”

Evans is also included as a defendant in a lawsuit against a company called Check Max, in which the company was accused of failing to pay more than $16,000 in lease payments at its West Valley City location.

Evans said he longer owns the company, but his name was attached as personal guarantor.

“I’ve been in business for over 25 years,” Evans said. “And anyone in business knows that you can be sued if you’re associated with a business, even after [that business] has been sold.”

Court records also show several tax liens and garnishments brought against Evans by the Utah State Tax Commission. But Evans said those are similarly related to business interests in which he no longer has ownership and for which he expects to remove himself from liability.

Evans said he expects the complete picture of the legal claims to be clarified in the next three to six months.