A Salt Lake County employee's victory against insurance fraud charges is further proof she was the victim of government retaliation and intimidation, according to defense attorney Ron Yengich.
Yengich said his client, Julie Sartain, was targeted by county officials because she "had the temerity" to stand up against sexual harassment and discrimination.Sartain, a microsystems analyst in the Management Information Services Division, was arrested Aug. 13, 1993, on charges she misrepresented a friend as her spouse on health-insurance documents.
Prosecutors alleged that Sartain intentionally deceived the county and illegally received about $3,323 worth of insurance coverage for the ineligible individual. Last week, 3rd Circuit Judge Phillip K. Palmer dismissed the charges.
Yengich argued that Sartain's relationship with Michael Haluska qualified as a common-law marriage under Utah law. They had lived together for 12 years, shared all of their finances, held joint insurance policies and represented themselves as husband and wife.
Also, Sartain testified that she cleared the insurance coverage with county officials and that she readily disclosed the common-law nature of her marriage when asked about it by investigators.
"At that time, the county had no definition of what a spouse was, and there was nothing that precluded a common-law husband to be on the insurance program. Julie complied with the county regulations. There was no theft, no fraud, no intent to defraud," Yengich said.
Given the circumstances of the case, Yengich said it was inconceivable that instead of simply disallowing the coverage and seeking redress administratively, Sartain was summarily arrested, handcuffed and booked into jail on felony charges.
Yengich noted that county officials admitted on the witness stand that they had taken no steps to ascertain whether other employees included common-law spouses on insurance forms.
"If it was such a big deal, why didn't they do that? The focus was on only one person: Julie Sartain," Yengich said.
Administrative Services Director Terry Hogan rejected the assertion, saying county policies apply to all employees and that anyone caught doing what Sartain did would be treated the same way.
However, Hogan also said policies have been tightened to require proof of dependency for insurance coverage, including certificates of marriage.
As for why the county didn't handle the Sartain case administratively rather than criminally, Hogan said, "We did; we fired her."
And she added that the dismissal of the criminal charges isn't likely to affect county procedures in the future because "the standards for administrative action are different."
Sartain said with the criminal case out of the way, she intends to pursue the issues that she believes were behind her arrest and dismissal.
According to Sartain, her troubles began when she leveled harassment and discrimination charges against five men in the MIS division. Named in her complaints - filed with the county and state Anti-Discrimination Division - were former MIS director Ken-neth Schwartz and co-workers Jay Apgood, Brian Bailey, Rod Dahl-gren and David Hardy.
County officials advised her to drop the matter, but she said she persisted because she felt a formal complaint offered her some protection against what she perceived to be a threat.
"I didn't do anything wrong, I just wanted the harassment to stop, but that isn't how they handled it," Sartain said.
In addition to the discrimination complaint, Sartain said she intends to file a civil lawsuit against the county and the officials responsible for her dismissal and arrest.
Hogan said Sartain's complaints resulted in disciplinary action against several individuals and that management problems in the MIS division have been corrected. Among the changes, Schwartz was reassigned and replaced as director by Darren Franchow.
"Morale has improved, the staff is supportive, and we're definitely getting back on track in MIS," Hogan said.