U.S. House hopeful Kerry Gibson is fighting release of an Ogden police probe into his duties while serving as a Weber County commissioner in part because he worries foes will misuse the information it contains, a new court filing shows.
All along, Gibson has charged that political opponents were behind the police investigation, which was completed in 2018 and led to no charges of wrongdoing. The issue emerged into the public sphere in late 2017 and stemmed in part from allegations that county employees had carried out work on a western Weber County dairy farmed owned by Gibson family members during Gibson's tenure as a county commissioner.
The Davis County Attorney's Office, which reviewed the Ogden Police Department investigation that was prompted by the allegations, ultimately filed no charges and dropped the matter. But it has lived on as a court fight over public release of the police inquiry. The case is now in the Utah Supreme Court, and in a filing last Thursday, Gibson referenced his 1st District U.S. House bid and reiterated concerns about the damage to his reputation that could occur if the investigation were released.
"Gibson has continuously asserted that the release of unfounded allegations will damage him both personally and professionally," he said in the filing. "Gibson has a background as a farmer, has served as a state legislator, a county commissioner and a deputy director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Most recently, Gibson resigned his position as the Utah commissioner of agriculture and food in January 2020 to run for Congress."
He went on, expressing worries that opponents could "misuse" information in the probe and reiterating his right to privacy, especially since the probe led to no formal charges. Gibson is one of four GOPers on the June 30 Republican primary ballot for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, who isn't seeking reelection to the post. Two Democratic contenders face off in the Democratic primary that same day.
"Gibson has concerns that political adversaries may misuse information contained in the requested records to gain a political advantage. Gibson believed from the outset that the false allegations were politically motivated," his filing reads. Under Utah Law, his filing continued, "Gibson's privacy interests greatly outweigh any interest that the public has in accessing records of an investigation that was based on false and unsubstantiated allegations and which did not lead to any criminal charges or disciplinary action."
More specifically, the Supreme Court case hinges on particulars of the state's public records law, the Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.
Freelance journalist Cathy McKitrick, a former Standard-Examiner employee, filed a records request with the city of Ogden per GRAMA for a copy of the probe. The Ogden Records Review Board subsequently approved release of a redacted version of the report in fall 2018, but Gibson then filed suit in 2nd District Court to block the decision. McKitrick questions whether Gibson has legal standing to file his suit given nuances of GRAMA, and now the Supreme Court is tasked with settling that issue before the broader question of the report's release may be decided.
McKitrick maintains that the GRAMA law, as written, doesn't give Gibson leeway to appeal the Ogden Records Review Board decision, thus his 2nd District Court suit must be dismissed. Gibson maintains that the law does in fact give him space to sue as a matter of protecting his right to privacy.
Gibson's Supreme Court filing follows the filing of a brief in the case last March by McKitrick. McKitrick may now file a reply brief to Gibson, according to her attorney, Jeremey Brodis, but Brodis didn't say if she would. Later, the court will most likely hold oral arguments, Brodis said, though he's not sure when that will be.
Few specifics about the Ogden police probe have emerged from those involved in investigating the matter. The Davis County Attorney's office said it centered on charges that Gibson tapped Weber County personnel and equipment to do work on Gibson family property and directed a Weber County employee to do campaign fundraising work for him during business hours. In dropping the matter, the office ultimately said there was "insufficient evidence" to prove Gibson misused public money or property.
Gibson backers have said they think a Weber River restoration project in western Weber County near Gibson family property is at the center of the matter, but they've rejected charges of misdeeds. The $26.4 million project, lauded by Gibson, was completed in 2015, largely with federal funds.
Gibson on Monday reiterated his contention that there's no substance to the police probe.
“Absolutely no wrongdoing was found," he said in a statement, dubbing the matter "fake news." "The process has proved that these were politically motivated attacks with no truth or merit. Our hope is now, that we will ultimately set a precedent that protects the innocent. I have served our community my whole life and will continue fighting for what is right.”
What's more, Weber County Attorney Chris Allred, "who looked into this issue," has endorsed his congressional bid, Gibson noted. The Davis County Attorney's office actually did the formal review of the police probe in the matter at the request of Weber County officials to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The Standard-Examiner has also filed a GRAMA request for release of the Ogden Police Department probe.
Gibson, Bob Stevenson, Katie Witt and Blake Moore face each other in the June 30 GOP primary. Darren Parry and Jamie Cheek face off in the Democratic primary, with the winners from each contest facing off on Nov. 3.