A judge has thrown out the defamation lawsuit of former Utah County Commissioner Greg Graves, who claimed fellow commissioners and a county employee had spread false and disparaging allegations about him following an investigation into sexual harassment.
Fourth District Judge Robert Lunnen verbally dismissed the case during a hearing earlier this week, with a formal written order to follow.
Graves, a one-term commissioner, won the seat by securing the party nomination at the 2014 County Republican Convention despite previous bankruptcies and a theft conviction. He was unchallenged in the general election.
Once in office, Graves developed a reputation as a bully with an explosive personality and faced at least one serious accusation of sexual harassment.
The complaint filed by a female employee in October 2017 said Graves touched her inappropriately, told her he was unhappy in his marriage and talked about sex.
Graves denied the allegations.
An investigator hired by the county found the female employee to be a “credible witness,” but he could not locate others to substantiate the allegation. Still, the investigation concluded that Graves retaliated against the woman after she reported the mistreatment.
Graves, the investigator wrote, is “widely viewed as a workplace bully, dishonest, demeaning, intimidating, threatening, explosive, and someone with whom personal interaction is to be avoided as much as possible.”
Before the release of the investigative report, Graves told reporters that it “100% exonerated him.”
After the damning report was released, hundreds of people called for Graves to be ousted from the $168,000-a-year county post, but state law provides no method for removal. It was the last serious discussion of the need for a recall law prior to the introduction of one in the current Legislature that some have linked to the impeachment vote of Sen. Mitt Romney against President Donald Trump. (HB217 has since been sidelined by legislative leaders.)
Graves refused to leave his commission seat — although he missed many meetings and for a time was said to rarely show up for work — until his term ended in January 2019. Then he filed suit against the county, Commissioners Bill Lee and Nathan Ivie, and the female employee who filed the harassment complaint.
Graves argued that the accusations against him were false and that the release of the investigation report libeled him and irreparably damaged his reputation in the eyes of future potential employers, his family and the community at large.
"The injury to [my client’s] reputation was real,” Graves’ attorney, Ryan Schriever, said at the time. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages for severe emotional and economic suffering
Andrew Morse, who represented Utah County in the lawsuit, maintained the claims were meritless. And at a hearing Monday, the judge agreed, dismissing the case with prejudice — meaning the matter cannot be pursued again in court once he signs a written order.
Morse is currently drafting that order and told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday that the dismissal is based on governmental immunity and the state’s open records law.
While Graves’ lawsuit claimed public release of the investigation report was “malicious,” and intended to harm Graves, Morse said the judge agreed with the county that disclosure of the report “was in fact required by law under the Government Records Access and Management Act.”
Commissioners Lee and Ivie referred a Tribune request for comment to the county’s attorney. Graves’ attorney did not immediately respond to a Tribune message.