Daggett County's old political woes became San Juan County's headache this week, forcing San Juan and Monticello city to disclose a $215,000 settlement earlier this month that government officials hoped to keep secret.
San Juan County and Monticello paid $215,000 to Gina Bailey to settle Bailey's $7 million civil-rights lawsuit. A ruling involving a 1987 lawsuit the Utah Society of Professional Journalists brought against Daggett County, however, forced San Juan and Monticello to disclose that settlement Wednesday.Bailey sued the city and county after a city officer and county jailer forced her to strip in front of them while she was incarcerated in the San Juan County Jail.
The city and county required Bailey to sign an agreement promising not to talk about the settlement to the media. A paragraph in the agreement, typed in capital letters, says, "Gina Bailey specifically agrees that neither she nor her agents or representatives shall disclose directly or indirectly to the newspaper, television stations, radio networks, or other element of the news media, the terms, conditions, amounts described in this release or the fact that money was paid."
When the Deseret News contacted Gary Ferguson, attorney for the city and county, Ferguson said the paper would have to hire an attorney and file its own lawsuit if it wanted to learn the terms of the settlement.
A reminder about the 1987 ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene prompted San Juan and Monticello to release the settlement.
In the Daggett case, Greene ruled that the public has a right to know the details of settlements that involve allegations of wrongdoing by public officials.
Daggett County Auditor Marie Beckstead sued Daggett County, accusing county officials of conspiring to coerce her to resign her job and then ordering criminal charges filed against her. In a secret settlement, the county agreed to pay Beckstead cash and drop the criminal charges if she would drop her lawsuit.
The Utah Society of Professional Journalists sued to have the settlement disclosed. Greene ordered Daggett to make the settlement public, ruling, "The balance between a bargain of confidentiality and the public's right of access would clearly weigh in favor of disclosure."
Jeff Hunt, attorney for the Society of Professional Journalists, contacted Ferguson last week, giving him a copy of Greene's ruling.
State law also requires disclosure, Hunt said. "The law makes it clear that final settlements are pubic record. . . . Once the deal is done, you can get it," Hunt said.
Ferguson told the Deseret News that the state's GRAMA law did not apply in this case because the lawsuit was filed in federal court.
Hunt commended Ferguson and government officials "for recognizing their legal obligation to release this settlement."
The strip search of Bailey was at the heart of the suit and the settlement, Ferguson said.
"If there had not been a cross-gender strip search, there would not have been a lawsuit," Ferguson said.
Monticello police officer Kent Rowley pulled over the car Bailey was riding in because Bailey's mother had contacted police, asking them to have her daughter return home.
When Bailey refused to return home, Rowley arrested her for disorderly conduct. After she was jailed, Rowley and San Juan County jailer Jerold Perkins ordered her to strip in front of them, refusing to summon a woman to do the search.
The men stood three feet away from Bailey and made her remove her clothing one article at a time, handing each item to them, the suit says. The men forced Bailey to stand facing them while she stripped. After she was naked, the men discussed whether to do a body cavity search on Bailey, the suit says.
"The officers don't agree that that description was correct," Ferguson said. "The officers said she was at a distance. She took all of her clothes off. The procedure took three to five minutes. They said no words were spoken. There was no discussion of a body search."
Bailey was released from jail the next day. No charges were filed against her.
Although Monticello was recently dropped from the case as a defendant, the city paid much of the settlement on behalf of Rowley. The officer continues to work for the city, Ferguson said.
When Bailey first filed her suit, the city offered her a $50,000 settlement, but she refused, sources say. Media reports that Bailey may only get $80,000 of her settlement "are absolutely false," said Rich Humphreys, her attorney.
Humphreys recently told a federal magistrate that his fees for the case were $130,000. "But we substantially discounted our fees in order to get this case settled," he said.