Prominent defense attorney Ron Yengich will not face criminal charges in an incident involving a 3rd District Court bailiff, but the controversy stirred by the episode is far from settled.
The bailiff, Deputy Debbie Spoons, filed a Salt Lake County Sheriff's report accusing Yengich of hitting her on the buttocks as he walked through a metal detector into the court building. In the report, she says he was verbally abusive when confronted about the incident.Yengich denied touching the woman on the buttocks and countered that the report was an attempt by another bailiff working with Spoons to embarass and harass him.
That bailiff, deputy Randy Lish, said he had nothing to do with Spoons' report and bears Yengich no ill will, although he said he did witness the incident.
Deputy District Attorney Bud Ellett said his office couldn't find enough evidence to warrant criminal charges.
"We decided there was really nothing there (in the report) that fell within the criteria of anything we'd prosecute," Ellett said. His office forwarded the case to Salt Lake City prosecutors, who've also decided not to prosecute.
The two charges Ellett's office looked at were disorderly conduct and assault on a police officer. Ellett said there definitely wasn't enough evidence to file assault charges and, in his opinion, to charge disorderly conduct, even as a class C misdemeanor, "was stretching it."
Salt Lake prosecutor Cheryl Luke said her office looked at its disorderly conduct statute and decided that it wasn't different enough from the state code (used by the county) to warrant a separate investigation by city prosecutors.
Yengich said he hadn't been notifed by either office of the outcome.
"I didn't figure they would (file charges) because I didn't do anything wrong," he said. "The only reason a story was written is because I'm a public figure."
He said the publicity given the allegations had a profoundly negative effect on him personally.
"I think it's sad that a bald-faced lie can hit the papers as far away as Casper, Wyoming, and there's no concern on how it impacts a person who's wrongly accused," he said.
Spoons said she's also not surprised by the outcome. She said she didn't think Ellett took her seriously and that he told her he probably wouldn't file any charges when she gave him the report.
"Attorneys don't file on attorneys," she said.
Ellett said he treated this case like any other and told her only that he didn't think there was evidence of intent to do bodily injury, which is a required element of the crime of assaulting a police officer.
And while the outcome of the case doesn't surprise her, the way in which it has mushroomed does.
"I was told to write a report," she said. "I thought the sergeant would handle it and that would be it . . . . . . . I had no clue anything like this would happen. I had no idea the news would get it. I didn't even know who he was."
What has developed is a widening rift between the court's bailiffs and officers of the court, which includes judges and attorneys.
Since this incident was reported, presiding 3rd District Court Judge Leslie Lewis has received numerous complaints about Lish and Spoons being overzealous in their security checks and harrassing those coming into court.
In answer to those concerns, she asked Sheriff Aaron Kennard to meet with her to discuss solutions.
After Monday's meeting between the two officials, the judge said no resolution had been found, but "I'm satisfied that this matter is in (Kennard's) capable hands and will be resolved within a week."
Chief Deputy Dean Carr, who's responsible for the court bailiffs, said during Monday's meeting the judge was assured "our bailiffs will conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner."
He said he thought "Mr. Yengich's conduct to be inappropriate and unprofessional . . . but we'll leave that to the presiding judge."
Spoons and Lish no longer work together, but they're each still stationed at one of the court's two entryways.
Lewis said she's committed to ensuring those who enter the court building are "treated with respect" while maintaining an adequate security level. Both Spoons and Lish say they've used proper procedures in questioning and searching those entering the court.
But when pressed on the issue, Lewis said she'd received "many complaints" about Spoons and especially Lish from ordinary citizens as well as court personnel and attorneys.
She declined to be specific about those complaints, but said she's "absolutely convinced we can do a better job of both (security and courtesy)."