SALT LAKE CITY — A federal trial over illegally modified trucks ground to a stop in a flurry of disputed subpoenas and a contempt of court citation against a star of the “Diesel Brothers” reality TV show.
Trouble ensued after David Sparks, known as “Heavy D” on the long-running Discovery Channel series, decided to attend a Las Vegas trade show during the first few days of trial last week.
An attorney for the plaintiff, the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, called Sparks to testify Tuesday, but the Woods Cross truck entrepreneur was at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association show.
Reed Zars, the physician group’s attorney, told U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby that Sparks’ attorney “declined to accept electronic service of subpoenas” to compel his testimony on Nov. 6 to 8, according to the court record.
Sparks’ attorney, Cole Cannon, then made an oral motion to quash the subpoenas for Wednesday and Thursday, adding that Sparks would return to testify by Friday.
The judge ruled all the subpoenas were valid and denied the quash motion. Cannon then said Sparks would fly back in time to testify at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
But as the trial resumed Wednesday morning, Cannon said Sparks was ill and would not appear that day.
Shelby held Sparks in contempt of court and asked for a signed declaration by Sparks showing the efforts he made to get to trial Wednesday. After other witnesses testified, Shelby recessed the trial until a date Sparks can testify.
Cannon said in a phone interview Monday the contempt citation was “no big deal” because Sparks became ill at 3 a.m. Wednesday and “ended up in an emergency room really, really sick.”
“It is a bummer,” Cannon said. “Health happens.”
On Friday, Cannon submitted to Shelby a detailed, apologetic doctor’s note from Sparks. The judge “excused” the contempt finding, according to Cannon.
Cannon said Sparks will be able to testify next week, although nothing has been scheduled yet.
Zars said he learned from Cannon on the previous Thursday that Sparks was going to the trade show during the first three days of the trial. That complicated Zars’ plans for testimony, so he issued subpoenas, but Sparks already had left for Nevada.
“It was a significant inconvenience to us that he wasn’t there and had chosen to be at a trade show rather than in federal court,” Zars said.
He said he viewed Sparks’ nonappearance as two events. First, “a very conscious decision not to be in court,” followed by his failure to be there the second day after the judge ordered it.
“If he was sick, that was an involuntary action,” Zars said. “Anybody can get sick.”
Shelby ruled March 12 that the Diesel Brothers companies are liable for civil monetary damages under the Clean Air Act.
In the trail, Shelby is determining what those penalties will be, plus what injunctive action may be ordered on modifications of trucks that defeat federally mandated pollution controls.
Cannon said the judge will decide also whether Sparks is personally liable for the violations, and how attorneys’ fees will be levied.
The doctors’ group filed a citizen enforcement action, allowed under the Clean Air Act, against three Woods Cross corporate entities, Sparks and two key employees, seeking to stop the sales and obtain a $100,000 judgment to go toward clean air programs.
The environmental group said the modified trucks spewed harmful particulate pollution contributing to the Wasatch Front’s severe air quality problems.
The doctors sued in January 2017 after noticing vehicles spewing black smoke on the show where Sparks and friends buy diesel trucks, modify them, then sell them on DieselSellerz.com.