OGDEN -- The nearly seven years of litigation over a fatal car crash that followed a police chase continues with plaintiffs seeking to have Ogden city's lawyers kicked off the case.
A faulty line of questioning by the city's hired lawyers during a November 2009 trial caused the Utah Supreme Court last June to throw out the jury verdict that had acquitted the city.
The justices ordered a new wrongful death trial in the 2005 crash in which two people died.
Jessica Nelson, 21, and her passenger, Philemon "Bob" Ellis, 62, died instantly when their car was struck by one driven by Eddy Raymond Bustos at 3 a.m. Dec. 13, 2005, at the intersection of 24th Street and Grant Avenue.
Bustos, now in prison for the deaths, had actually increased speed as a police chase was called off seconds before the collision, according to testimony.
The Nelson family's lawyers filed a motion last fall demanding the city pay $500,000 in legal fees they accrued during the 2009 trial.
Now, Rob Sykes' law firm is also asking 2nd District Judge Scott Hadley to remove from the case the city's legal team from the Salt Lake City law firm of Snow, Christensen & Martineau, one of the largest in the state.
In a motion filed earlier this month, Snow, Christensen & Martineau defends itself by calling Sykes' demands his continuing "effort to convert the Utah Supreme Court reversal of the jury verdict in this case into a windfall for the plaintiff and her counsel."
The new trial date has yet to be scheduled as the motions tied to Sykes's requests for sanctions are dealt with. Oral arguments are set for Feb. 25 before Hadley.
Nelson's family filed suit in 2006, seeking $715,000 for Nelson's then-5-year-old daughter, Wonzie Barrientos.
After the six-day trial in 2009, the jury found that former Ogden police officer Matt Jones' pursuit of drug suspect Bustos did not cause the crash, which occurred seconds after Jones turned off his overhead lights and ended his chase. Bustos' speed was 78 mph at the time of impact.
Sykes has been calling the city's lawyers' actions in 2009 a "fraud on the court," wording the Supreme Court did not use in condemning the lawyers' 2009 trial tactic of attacking the character of the deceased.
In its decision, the high court chastised lawyer Heather White for implying Nelson was a prostitute in an effort to prejudice the jury.
"Her questioning ... reveals that Ms. White surrendered, without resistance, to the impulse to win her case by bludgeoning the character of the dead," the justices wrote.
The motion opposing the move to remove the city's lawyers notes that the high court made no suggestion the firm should be disqualified.
"To the contrary, the court contemplated that Ms. White would be Ogden's counsel at the new trial," pointing out the high court's ruling advised White to exercise restraint "during the retrial of this case."
Bustos is serving a potential 30-year prison term after pleading guilty to two counts of manslaughter in 2007.