SALT LAKE CITY — The journalist pushing for release of the police probe into Kerry Gibson is taking aim at his contention that the document, if made public, would violate his privacy interests.
Gibson, a former Weber County commissioner whose duties in that role are the focus of the Ogden Police Department inquiry, has been fighting release of the two-year-old probe in a legal tussle that's now reached the Utah Supreme Court.
Cathy McKitrick, the freelance journalist whose public records request for the document prompted the legal matter, maintains in her latest filing that privacy interests aren't germane in the matter. Gibson has argued against release of the probe, which was completed in 2018 and resulted in no charges of wrongdoing, saying, in part, that it could unfairly hurt his reputation and would represent an invasion of his privacy. The Standard-Examiner has also filed a records request for the investigation.
"In terms of the public's right to know, nothing of importance turns on whether or not accusations of official misconduct are proven true or false. If a public official has abused his office, the public has a right to know. If investigators are using public funds to pursue investigations that are unwarranted, the public has a right to know that too," McKitrick's attorneys wrote in a brief filed on June 19. "And if a governmental agency declines to bring charges based on conclusions in a secret investigative report, the public has the right to know why."
The police probe stemmed from accusations of misdeeds and ethical lapses under Gibson's leadership as county commissioner as brought up by county roads and public works employees in 2017 and 2018, former county officials familiar with the matter have told the Standard-Examiner. The Davis County Attorney's Office reviewed the investigation that resulted from the complaints, ultimately filing no charges and dropping the matter.
Still, there has never been a full public accounting of the matter, and in her new Supreme Court filing, McKitrick says Gibson's protestations shouldn't be enough to sideline release of the investigation.
That Gibson "disputes the allegations against him — something public officials do in almost every meaningful investigation — is no reason to keep them secret," the filing reads. "If that were the law, public officials would always be able to shield disclosure of investigations into their official misconduct, or at least tie them up in years of litigation, as Gibson has done here, simply by claiming that the accusations were unfounded."
Gibson, one of four Republicans now running for the 1st District U.S. House seat, has said political opponents were behind the probe, though he hasn't provided additional details. He's also emphasized the fact that no formal charges emerged from the matter, saying his name has been cleared. Gibson, from western Weber County, previously served in the Utah House and headed the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food for about nine months before stepping down in January to run for the U.S. House.
"More fake news. There is nothing new here," Gibson said in a statement on the matter to the Standard-Examiner on Tuesday. "Again, the fact of the matter is that absolutely no wrongdoing was found."
All along, Gibson has objected to release of the investigative files "because they contain unfounded allegations against him in his role as a county commissioner," his lawyers wrote in a legal brief in the matter in May. "Release of Ogden city's investigative files will present a new round of defamatory allegations for Gibson to defend. The government's release of unsubstantiated allegations serves no public purpose."
Also in her new filing, McKitrick countered Gibson's contention that he has legal standing under Utah's public records law to challenge release of the police report, one of the central legal questions in the matter. The Ogden Records Review Board on Sept. 6, 2018, called for release of the document with certain elements redacted, as sought by McKitrick. That prompted Gibson to sue in 2nd District Court in Ogden to block the move. McKitrick, in turn, filed a motion for dismissal of the suit, arguing Gibson has no leeway in state law to challenge the review board decision.
The 2nd District Court judge issued a preliminary ruling last year in Gibson's favor, saying he has standing to sue in the matter, though that didn't resolve the case. But McKitrick subsequently asked for the Utah Supreme Court to review that decision. Following the filing of legal briefs by each side, the next step in the Supreme Court case would be oral arguments. That probably won't occur until September or October at the earliest, according to Jeremy Brodis, McKitrick's attorney.