SALT LAKE CITY — Utah journalists have filed a motion to prevent a state court from closing a hearing this week concerning former Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott.
Citing unanswered questions about the former county recorder, how and when his health began declining, and how concerns about his health impacted his time as an elected official, the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, KTVX Good 4Utah News and the Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists submitted the motion Tuesday morning, days after learning a motion has been filed to close the 8:30 a.m. Wednesday hearing in 3rd District Court.
"The public has strong and legitimate interest in this matter, stemming from the fact that Ott was, until just very recently, an elected public official," the motion states. "Unanswered questions remain about how and when Ott became incapacitated, the nature of the condition, and how it impacted his time in office."
The motion comes as Ott's family and his former employee Karmen Sanone — who has also been identified as Ott's girlfriend, fiancee, caregiver and longtime friend — remain embroiled in a legal battle over guardianship.
Ott, 66, has been identified as an "incapacitated adult" with a "mental capacity that is not temporary in nature" in court documents, specifically the agreement between Ott's family and Salt Lake County officials to have him resign Aug. 1.
Before a judge approved his resignation, Ott's health concerns played out publicly over the past year and a half following a Deseret News investigation into concern over the recorder's health and whether he was carrying out his elected duties. Last year, Ott earned nearly $190,000 in taxpayer-paid salary and benefits.
Ott's sister, Kathy Chamberlain, and others have accused Sanone and Ott's former chief deputy, Julie Dole, of using Ott as a "pawn" and hiding his health issues so they could remain in their appointed positions.
Sanone, on the other hand, has accused Ott's family of only seeking guardianship to seize control of the former recorder's finances.
"Unanswered questions remain about the roles and actions of his aides Dole and Sanone in possibly concealing Ott's condition and potentially misleading the public regarding the true nature of how the county recorder's office has been run and managed for the past two years," the media's motion states.
"This case may not answer all those questions, but it is likely to shed light on many of them," the motion continues. "Accordingly, this is no ordinary guardianship proceeding, and it should not be conducted behind closed doors out of view of the taxpayers and voters who elected Ott and others."
Ott's independently appointed attorney, Dara Cohen, filed the motion to close the hearing because "private matters will be discussed," she said, but didn't comment further.
In the motion to oppose the closure, media also argue that the hearing should be open to the public because it appears at least three elected officials currently serving Salt Lake County taxpayers — Clerk Sherrie Swensen, Assessor Kevin Jacobs and Surveyor Reid Demman — have been subpoenaed to testify in the court proceeding, according to the court docket.
Ott's family's attorney, Mary Corporon, said in a statement Tuesday that she and her clients "respect the First Amendment" and aren't actively opposing the motion to close the hearing.
"While my clients hope that the controversy surrounding Mr. Ott will resolve itself, and that they will all soon have privacy to address Mr. Ott's very personal circumstances, we also respect the First Amendment and the role of the press in a free society," Corporon said. "We will defer to the determination of the court on this issue."