ST. GEORGE – Fired Dixie State University theater professor Varlo Davenport has been assigned a new judge and a trial date is now set for July 13.
Washington County Justice Court Judge Ronald Read disqualified himself in April after Davenport’s attorney, Aaron Prisbrey, alleged there was illegal communication between the judge and Utah Assistant Attorney General Michael Carter, who is representing Dixie State in the case.
According to court documents, a motions hearing before Judge Karlin Myers is set for Monday at the Washington County Justice Court. Myers is a judge at the Hurricane Justice Court.
Myers was appointed to the court in 2005, according to the Utah Courts website, is a graduate of Willamette University College of Law, and maintained a private law practice for 15 years with an emphasis on criminal defense.
Davenport, a theater professor with 15 years of tenure, was terminated from Dixie State in December 2014 after a student accused him of assaulting her during a classroom acting exercise.
The exercise aimed to get the student to connect emotionally to the scene, Davenport said in an earlier interview, and included having other students stand around the girl and annoy her in different ways such as poking her and tossing her hair in her face to help evoke the emotions needed in the scene.
Finally, Davenport said, he stepped in himself and started flipping the girl’s hair and nudging her as her fellow students had previously done.
The student never expressed discomfort with the exercise or asked for it to stop, Lizzy Peterson, wife of a DSU music professor and a student in the class that day, said in a witness statement for a faculty review board.
The review board cleared Davenport and recommended his reinstatement. Instead, Davenport was charged with assault. The Washington County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, and St. George City is pursuing a single Class B misdemeanor charge.
The St. George City Attorney’s Office and Carter have repeatedly declined to comment on the matter because it is an active case.
Request for documents
Despite the fact that Judge Read disqualified himself from the case, Prisbrey is not encouraged, and said Davenport’s case “demonstrates a complete and abject failure of the Washington County Justice Court.”
“It doesn’t change the problems we have,” he said. Repeated attempts to obtain documents from the prosecution which Prisbrey believes will clear his client have failed. The documents requested by Prisbrey include the investigatory file of DSU Public Safety Director Don Reid; along with emails, correspondence and whistleblower hotline calls about the alleged assault from Dixie State.
Prisbrey first requested the documents in August 2015. Finally, on Feb. 19, Read ordered that any relevant information be turned over to Prisbrey.
However, Carter argued the subpoena was overly broad and Read agreed to review the submitted information privately, or “in camera.” But when the documents were finally turned over, there were only five pages and no index or cover sheet was included, rather than the boxes of evidence he was expecting, Prisbrey said.
“We have an order requiring the documents be turned over, and they’ve never been turned over,” Prisbrey said.
In addition, the few documents that were given to Prisbrey were not docketed and did not have a cover sheet, which Prisbrey said is not how courts are supposed to operate.
The way to submit documents for in camera review, Prisbrey said, is with an index describing the general nature of the documents. Then the judge looks at them and decides what is relevant and what is not.
And if the documents were not docketed, he said, “how could I know if the documents delivered (to the court) were what showed up on my desk?”
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