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The City Journals

Ex-Candidate Files Lawsuit Against Councilman for Defamation after Bribery Allegations

Oct 01, 2015 11:27PM ● By Rhett Wilkinson

Andrew Petersen, a former South Jordan city council candidate, filed a lawsuit for defamation Monday against former opponent Chuck Newton, the incumbent. Photo courtesy Andrew Petersen

By Rhett Wilkinson

A South Jordan City councilman was sued for defamation after his accusation of bribery by a recent campaign opponent.

Andrew Petersen filed the lawsuit Monday in 3rd District Court against Chuck Newton, the incumbent from District 2.

On Aug. 13, Newton wrote a letter to city officials claiming Petersen, as a candidate, offered him $10,000 to drop out of the race as Petersen said that he could then November ballot after candidate Paul Bateman dropped out.

Petersen claimed in the court filing that the allegations are false — and that Newton "impugned his integrity, damaged his reputation among voters and the public at large, (and has) damaged his business relationships."

Petersen is seeking at least $300,000 in monetary damages, along with a court order prohibiting Newton from making any other defamatory statements. No court date had been set as of Thursday.

Confident that the investigation will “improve (his) integrity,” Newton wants the investigation to go forward, he told the South Jordan Journal.

“The best thing (Petersen) can do is to go throw himself on the mercy of the investigative agencies when they come knocking on his door,” Newton said. “He was trying to be too cute and clever the way he worded it, trying to act like it wasn’t a bribe. … He’s backed himself into a corner.”

The Journal attempted to contact Petersen on Wednesday. However, one call from a cell phone got a message that Petersen’s phone did not accept incoming calls; another from a desk phone was followed with the phrase “your call could not go through.” Calls from the phones one and six days previous went through. Also, Petersen’s campaign Facebook page, which includes his phone number, was down although it wasn’t as recently as one day previous.

Petersen claimed in the court papers that he did meet with Newton on Aug. 13 at his home. Newton told the Journal last week that he got two calls from Petersen at approximately 6 and 7 p.m. on the 13th about meeting that night. But Newton said nothing about calling Petersen himself around 8 p.m. two days earlier, the night of the primary election.

Newton asked for Petersen's endorsement, but Petersen didn’t offer that endorsement nor money, according to the papers.

"Plaintiff (Petersen) never offered defendant Newton $10,000 in exchange for withdrawing from the campaign," according to the complaint.

Newton claimed in his letter that Petersen told him the money would go towards Newton's run for mayor in 2017.

Newton said that Petersen offered him $5,000 now for a political campaign contribution and another $5,000 in 2017 for a mayoral campaign that has not been declared.

On Aug. 14, Newton spoke with Police Chief Jeff Carr and Chief of Staff Paul Cunningham about the issue. The letter was forwarded to District Attorney Sim Gill’s office after Newton then spoke with City Attorney Ryan Loose, Newton said.

“We were contacted by South Jordan government,” Gill said. “I want to say it was their legal counsel.”

Gill said on Thursday that his office is still determining whether to launch a formal investigation.

“There is no fixed timeline,” Gill said last week. “We gather the sufficient information… every investigation has its own sort of timeline.”

Newton said on Wednesday that “multiple agencies have knocked on (his) door and sat on (his) table.”

“I spoke with them today and they are moving forward full-speed ahead, which excites me,” he said. “I have more information than what was originally provided to the city.”

Newton and Brad Marlor will square off in November after being the top two vote-getters in the primary. Marlor said that Petersen met with him. Newton said that he believes that Marlor is behind the lawsuit as Marlor was with Petersen’s efforts to convince Newton to drop out of the race.

Attorneys Christian Burridge and Ryan Springer decided to work on the case together as they have in the past, Springer said.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Paul Rolly reported on Sept. 22 on the alleged bribe. Rolly wrote that he has a policy of not revealing his sources.

Petersen's complaint is attached, above.