Iron County moves for dismissal of case against Lt. Jody Edwards’ reinstatement

Iron County Commissioners withdrew their appeal of Iron County sheriff's Lt. Jody Edwards' reinstatement Wednesday and filed motion for dismissal of the case Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in 5th District Court, Cedar City, Utah | Composite image, St. George News

IRON COUNTY – Less than a week after a 4th District judge shot down Iron County’s motion to stop the reinstatement of sheriff’s Lt. Jody Edwards, pending appeal, the county withdrew its petition to appeal the July decision of the county’s Career Service Council favoring Edwards’ reinstatement and then moved to dismiss the entire case Thursday. Both the county’s petition and motion cited the District Court’s ruling as part of their reason.

Iron County Commission’s attorney, Susan Dunn, filed the county’s petition to withdraw appeal Wednesday.

Thursday, according to a notice filed with the court by Dunn, an ex parte communication – that is, a communication without all parties present – took place between a Career Service Council member and an Iron County commissioner regarding the Edwards matter. Details of that communication were not disclosed in the court records.

Also, on Thursday, Dunn filed the county’s motion for dismissal and the matter is pending District Judge James Brady’s order before the dismissal is final.

Edwards’ attorney Scott Burns said Wednesday he didn’t think there would be a problem with the case being dismissed.

Commissioner Dave Miller said the county decided to appeal the CSC’s decision because there were no vacancies in the sheriff’s office at the time of Edwards’ termination that originated with the sale of the ambulance service over which he had served as lieutenant. But now with two open positions available Miller said there was no reason to continue with the case.

“The decision to appeal originated in the fact there was not an open position within the sheriff’s department at the time of the ambulance closure from which Mr. Edwards received his salary with benefits of about $105,000. Moving him to the sheriff’s office with pay from the Municipal Service District, until a vacancy occurred, was not an option the commissioners were willing to do,” Miller said. “Two positions in the sheriff’s office, which were vacated about two months ago, were held open pending the outcome of the court’s ruling. Once the court ruled the terms of his return it brought some resolution and continuing the appeal was not necessary.”

Miller said the commissioners had been trying to find a way to bring Edwards back from the beginning but to no avail.

“So the county sent five certified letters, two in July, notifying Mr. Edwards and his counsel of open positions as they came up between the closure of the ambulance in April to date, which were not acted upon,” he said.

Edwards’ attorney, Scott Burns, argued in court the reason for his client’s rejecting the job offers was out of concern it would jeopardize his case with the CSC.

Miller said while there are still details to work out in bringing Edwards back he is hopeful the commissioners’ decision to end the fight will also bring closure to the past and allow the county officials to move forward.

“There are still details to work out that will take place right away and hopefully this resolution will allow us to move in the best direction for the county,” he said.

Sheriff Mark Gower said he also hopes things can be resolved but he believes it starts with elected leaders respecting the office of other elected leaders.

“I don’t want to say it can’t ever be resolved because I’m a hopeful person and I want it to be,” Gower said. “I want to get back to the point where we’re working together and not have this tension between us. I want that and I’ve said that publicly and privately numerous times – doesn’t mean we always have to agree and the other elected officials need to respect the other elected officials’ office and then we’ll get along fine.”

Burns said he had not had time to review the county’s motion yet but was happy to learn of the commissioners’ decision to withdraw.

“We just learned about the motion and have not had time to review it,” Burns said Wednesday, “but we are pleased at the county’s decision to honor the decision of the CSC and to abandon the appeal.”

Wednesday’s announcement of the county’s decision to withdraw its appeal came during a public meeting by the CSC to clarify the meaning of its decision as remanded by Brady.

“The ruling by the CSC is ambiguous in part. By declaring, ‘it is the expectation of the CSC that the Iron County Commission and Sheriff (Mark) Gower find an acceptable workforce adjustment plan the CSC did not expressly affirm, modify, vacate or set aside an order regarding Edwards’ termination,” Brady wrote in his decision to reinstate Edwards pending the appeal.

The CSC members were unsure of some legal terms the judge had used in his decision and scheduled a meeting for next week saying they wanted to first seek legal advice before moving forward.

All parties involved thanked the CSC for their work on this case and the time they spent on the issues.

Edwards who has been employed with Iron County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 23 years was terminated April 30 as part of a reduction in force after the county commissioners dissolved the ambulance department after selling the service to Gold Cross.

He was one of 70 employees terminated at the time. However, Gold Cross had guaranteed employment as part of the sale negotiations for all county EMTs and paramedics and the secretary of the ambulance remained with the county.

The CSC, comprised of Natasha Hirschi, Sandra Benson and Dale Orton, found that because the ambulance department was under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office and as such Edwards was still an employee the sheriff should have decided how to handle Edwards in the reduction in force, or RIF, process. Based on those findings, the CSC ordered Edwards to be reinstated with back pay to April 30.

Iron County appealed the decision arguing there was no open position available for Edwards and no money in the budget to pay his salary.

Brady, a judge from Spanish Fork assigned to the case due to conflicts of interest by by two other judges, agreed in part with the CSC decision and ordered Edwards reinstated with back pay pending the appeal.

Edwards is scheduled to return to work Monday and will work patrol until all the details can be worked out.

Gower said on learning of the commissioners’ decision to withdraw their appeal that Edwards had been vindicated.

“I don’t know that I want to term it as a win,” he said. “A wrong has been righted. And that’s what has happened today. Jody was wrongfully terminated and that’s been corrected.”

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • Chris November 20, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Could the Iron County commission have come out of this looking any dumber? Now, they need to tell us what the bill is for the outside counsel they hired to litigate this case. Dave Miller and his cohorts are complete dolts, and we should be ashamed that they hold public office in this state.

  • ladybugavenger November 20, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Next to come unprovable retaliation administered by iron county. Watch out Lt. they’re coming for you…

  • .... November 20, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    He won’t last long. They are already formulating a plan of attack to make sure he is gone in the very near future. I know those bottom feeding worms he’s working for

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