ST. GEORGE – City officials appointed an interim administrative law judge Thursday to oversee its code enforcement court. The new judge fills the position in the wake of Brian Filter’s resignation and will serve until a permanent replacement is found.
Brad Young, who previously worked for the City of St. George as a code enforcement officer and the administrative law judge for the code court in 2009, was recommended by city staff to be Filter’s replacement.
The code enforcement court is where people may end up if they choose to ignore repeated notices from the city to rectify alleged code violations. Failure to rectify the violations can lead to potential fines. Examples of code violations could include unkempt yards, running a commercial business in a neighborhood where zoning doesn’t allow it, or keeping certain types and numbers of animals on property where they aren’t permitted by city code.
Young does not have a law degree, but has an extensive background in law enforcement, City Attorney Shaun Guzman said.
The city previously required that the administrative law judge have a law degree. Though still preferred, it is no longer a deciding factor for applicants. Guzman told the City Council the requirement was found to be too restrictive for potential candidates.
“The fact they don’t have to be an attorney is a plus for me,” Councilman Jimmie Hughes said.
Guzman also told the council that while Young would be serving as an interim judge, the process of finding a permanent judge for the code enforcement court would begin within 30 days of Young’s appointment. He also told the council that it could select a pool of applicants, or simply appoint a name recommended by city staff or the mayor.
“We felt it would be good to bring (Young’s) name forward,” Guzman said.
Guzman said Friday that staff from the city’s legal department and human resources department would be on a panel that would review applicants for potential recommendation if the City Council wanted to take that route. During Thursday’s council meeting the council members indicated they did.
Council members Joe Bowcutt and Michele Randall were not so sure about the recommendation of a former code enforcement officer, though.
Randall said she wasn’t sure if a former code enforcement officer could be impartial. Bowcutt said the same.
“I would have a challenge being impartial,” Bowcutt said.
Still, whoever the City Council appoints for the position will be an employee of the city, Hughes said.
Young’s appointment was approved by the City Council in a 3-2 vote, with Randall and Bowcutt being the dissenting votes.
Young wasn’t present at the City Council meeting to comment on his appointment or address council member concerns.
Code enforcement issues
Code enforcement was one of the primary issues City Council and mayoral candidates ran on in the 2013 municipal election. St. George Mayor Jon Pike said he would create a committee to review the city’s code.
That plan had been stalled due to a lawsuit filed against the city in late 2013 by attorney Aaron Prisbrey who represents individuals who believe their constitutional rights were violated by the city’s code enforcement officers. Prisbrey also created the CAITS Institute, a website and Facebook page where he gives updates on the status of the code enforcement lawsuit and related issues.
Prisbrey attended the council meeting Thursday night and expressed doubts about Young’s appointment.
“I don’t know if I can accept the premise he is the interim judge,” he said following the meeting. He also said he found it “curious” that the position no longer required a law degree.
Young has basically been grandfathered into the position, Guzman said.
Prisbrey said his office issued a Governments Records Access and Management Act request to the City of St. George concerning the job posting for a new administrative law judge. They received a copy of the posting Wednesday which evidently points to the city attorney being the individual the judge reports to.
“This is a farce,” Prisbrey said. With the judge overseeing the code enforcement court allegedly answering to the city attorney – whose department is the prosecuting entity in the court – how could anyone stand a chance of getting a fair trial? The city legal department potentially exercising undue influence over the judge so he rules in the city’s favor is one of Prisbrey’s concerns.
Guzman said he hadn’t seen the job posting Prisbrey spoke about and wasn’t able to comment on it. As of Friday he also said the job hasn’t officially posted yet.
As for who the judge will answer to, Guzman said it is ultimately the city manager, Gary Esplin.
“The only thing we want is an unbiased judge who doesn’t report to Shawn Guzman,” Prisbrey said.
Another issue Prisbrey raised about Young’s appointment were issues he previously brought up in connection to Filter’s time as the administrative law judge and how the code enforcement court was managed.
According to the city code, Prisbrey said, the judge is supposed to promulgate, or put in writing, procedures related to how the court is to run and how people are to be notified when they need to appear in the court.
Filter never did that, Prisbrey said, and neither did Young when he originally served in the same position. Prisbrey has previously said he believes the code enforcement court’s lack of written procedures allows the judge to arbitrarily make the rules as he goes. This action has the potential to violate the constitutional right of due process, he said.
During a Jan. 28 court hearing, Deputy City Attorney Paula Houston said the day-to-day procedural matters of the court are established by the judge and left unwritten to allow for flexibility as needed. The promise of due process and the overall procedural rules related to the court are already in the city code, she said.
Prisbrey also said Young was in charge of a code violation investigation into a property owned by Councilman Gil Almquist which was ultimately dropped. According to the SUIndependent.com, the incident occurred in 2006-2007 based on reports it acquired from the city. At the time, neighbors complained about Almquist keeping items related to his landscaping business on a property in the 100 East area of St. George. Though Almquist owns the property, it is not zoned for commercial use. Young investigated the property and was reportedly told by city officials at the time to “let it go.” This brought the investigation to a halt. Almquist and city officials have denied any wrongdoing related to the issue.
Almquist also later removed plants and other items from the property after Prisbrey filed his own complaint and began to push the issue into the public eye. Prisbrey has pointed to the time the city allowed Almquist to allegedly use his property for his business as evidence of preferential treatment toward a city official.
Prisbrey said Young’s dropping the investigation was eventually rewarded by his original appointment as the administrative law judge in 2009.
Neither Young nor Filter were available for comment.
- Unwritten rules allow for flexibility? Judge denies dismissal of code enforcement action
- City resident challenges the legitimacy of code enforcement court
- ON Kilter: A guilty conscience needs no accuser
- St. George is sued for code enforcement practices; settlement nearly reached just hours earlier
- City faces potential lawsuit after code enforcement search declared unconstitutional
- Letter to the Editor: St. George fear squad bullies meet Citizens Against Incumbent Tyrannical Servants
- ON Kilter: Fine line between dissension and anarchy; threat of class action against city
- Perspectives: Anarchy is looking better all the time
Email: [email protected]
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.