Utah County Republican Party Organizing convention

A view of the Utah County Republican Party Organizing Convention on Saturday, April 27, 2019, at Mountain View High School in Orem. 

One of two defendants has been dropped from a lawsuit in which three Utah Republican Party officials from Weber County alleged a committee meeting was wiretapped.

Robert McEntee, Lynda Pipkin and Elizabeth Carlin, who were members of the GOP State Central Committee at the time, sued two men after a fractious party meeting in North Salt Lake on Sept. 9, 2017.

The Weber County trio alleged in the civil suit that a party activist, Daryl Acumen, and a technology provider, Giles Witherspoon, intercepted communications of committee members during the meeting. They were accused of hacking to gather texts and other data.

But in documents filed April 15 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Acumen was dropped from the suit in a settlement with the plaintiffs.

“I never even opened my laptop” at the committee meeting, Acumen said in an interview Tuesday.

Witherspoon remains as the sole defendant. His attorney, Walter Romney Jr., did not respond to a request for comment.

The case pitted two major party factions against one another. The Weber County trio was part of a group that has tried to keep party nominating caucuses and conventions tightly in delegate control.

Acumen was a proponent of the Count My Vote initiative, which sought to break up the delegate stranglehold over nominations.

The fight resulted in 2014’s Senate Bill 54, which maintained the caucus system but set up an alternate path to the primary ballot via gathering of signatures.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 refused to hear the caucus backers’ suit against the new system, seemingly ending the fight. But harsh attitudes have lingered within the party.

The Weber County trio’s suit illuminated the conflict.

“Acumen’s intended purpose ... was to use any information gained to help him and other Count My Vote supporters frustrate or gain an advantage over plaintiffs and their allies,” the plaintiffs said in their amended complaint filed in December 2018.

“Acumen expressed on multiple occasions his strong dislike, even hatred, toward plaintiffs and their allies,” the suit said.

Acumen and Witherspoon denied any wrongdoing, and Acumen alleged the plaintiffs also held racial animus against the defendants, who are black.

Pipkin denied that allegation. She said she was solely motivated by what she described as extreme privacy violations at the meeting.

Seth Needs, an attorney representing Pipkin and her party colleagues, did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement with Acumen.

The settlement document said only that each party would shoulder its own legal expenses.

“The settlement terms say I am not allowed to disparage the plaintiffs in the lawsuit,” said Acumen, a former party official in Utah County.

He agreed, however, to answer questions not specifically related to Pipkin, McEntee and Carling.

“Unfortunately this is costing me $20,000 because I can’t get the legal fees back,” Acumen said. “It still sucks. The bottom line is, I didn’t do anything wrong, period.”

On the larger issue of the caucuses, Acumen said he thinks the signature gathering threshholds are too high for ballot qualification.

“At some point, Count My Vote will come back,” he said. “Personally, I think the caucuses just need to go.”

He said the caucus fight “has burned the party to the ground the last five years.”

“It has put such a bad taste in the mouths of so many sensible voters,” Acumen said.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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