Federal judge tosses sex harrassment suit against former Weber justice

Friday , October 12, 2012 - 6:55 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has thrown out a sexual harassment lawsuit against a former Weber County judge.

Filed in February 2010, the suit brought by Marcia Eisenhour, former chief administrator of the Weber County Justice Court, accused Judge Craig Storey of two years of unwanted sexual advances.

A key piece of evidence was an 11-page, handwritten, mildly erotic love poem Storey wrote about Eisenhour.

Eisenhour and her lawyer angrily released the poem to the media in August 2009 after the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission took no public action after meeting with Storey behind closed doors.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson wrote “no reasonable juror could conclude that Judge Storey’s actions constituted sexual harassment. ... The facts fail to even remotely constitute proof that Judge Storey acted with the kind of intent necessary to violate Ms. Eisenhour’s constitutional rights.”

“There will definitely be an appeal,” April Hollingsworth, Eisenhour’s attorney, said Friday afternoon.

“I thought the judge did a fantastic job,” said Deputy Weber County Attorney Dave Wilson, head of the civil division of the office. “He asked the right questions. He applied the right law.”

Later in 2010, the county closed the justice court, citing economics with a major dropoff in caseload after the Ogden Justice Court opened in 2006.

The lawsuit claimed the closure was part of a pattern of retaliation against Eisenhour.

The closure retired Storey and left Eisenhour unemployed briefly, the county still paying Storey’s salary through 2010 because his position was an elected one.

The now-dismissed lawsuit had also named Weber County, which had filed the original complaint against Storey with the Judicial Conduct Commission after an investigation by the Weber County Attorney’s Office.

“Strange would be a better word than ironic,” Wilson said. “We simply passed on the results of our investigation to the Judicial Conduct Commission.”

Benson discounted some of the allegations specifically, noting that “all parties agreed” Storey never intended for Eisenhour to see the poem he wrote about her.

Benson also wrote in his ruling that “Ms. Eisenhour claims that on two occasions Judge Storey stood very close to (her) and rubbed his groin area against her.”

“She claims other people were in the area when he did this. One witness remembers observing the judge standing very closely to Ms. Eisenhour, but no witness, other than Ms. Eisenhour, saw the rubbing incidents. It is undisputed that Ms. Eisenhour did not complain about these incidents to anyone at any time prior to her visit with the Deputy County Attorney on July 8, 2008.”

Benson said that meeting to complain of Storey’s alleged sexual harassment coincided with Storey beginning to press Eisenhour on absences and her declining work performance following the death of her father, a time when Eisenhour was experiencing physical stress.

Eisenhour had argued that the stress was the result of Storey’s advances and her resisting them.

“This, she claims, caused her great stress, which led to her physical appearance and personality changes, and contributed to occasional tardies and absences from the workplace,” Benson’s decision reads.

“This general theory of what happened is ably articulated by Ms. Eisenhour’s attorney, but is supported by very little, if any, specific evidence.”

Wilson said Eisenhour turned down “multiple” settlement offers, even before the lawsuit was filed, including an offer of $40,000.

“It was a nuisance settlement offer because the lawsuit had no merit,” he said.

Eisenhour continues to work for the county at the animal shelter. Storey is in private practice.

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