Utah taxpayers footing the legal bills on behalf of lawmaker accused of sexual harassment

Utah taxpayers are footing the bill for attorneys defending former state Sen. Gene Davis over allegedly violating the Utah legislature’s sexual harassment policies, according to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Davis was found to have “more likely than not” violated the policy over an inappropriate relationship with an intern. The intern, Sonia Weglinski, is now suing the Utah legislature, and the state is footing the bill for Davis’s lawyers. 

Weglinski alleged that the Utah legislature knew “that Defendant Davis harassed young, female employees” and perpetuated “a culture where powerful legislators are permitted to harass young, female interns and other employees.”

“Neither Defendants the State of Utah, the Legislature, nor OLRGC [Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel] took any action to prevent Ms. Weglinski from being assigned to Davis, or to reassign her, despite knowing that Defendant Davis harassed young, female employees,” the filing noted.

It is not clear exactly how much Utah will spend on legal fees to defend Davis. As of 2024, the rate for attorneys housed in the attorney general’s office is $161 per hour. Assistant Attorney General Joseph Adams is overseeing the case.

Utah state law requires that “a governmental entity shall defend any action brought against its employee.” However, the state can decline to provide legal coverage if the misaction did not occur during the employee’s duties.

Weglinski said some of the behavior by Davis occurred when she was working on his campaign, not on his legislative work. The filing describes “inappropriate and unwelcome” behavior from Davis at his place of residence. 

Weglinski said she waited to come forward with accusations against Davis until after the June 2022 Democratic primary election in Utah to avoid being accused of coming forward with the claims for political reasons. Weglinski was working on his campaign at the time. Later that year, Davis announced his retirement in the wake of the accusations. 

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“I had to experience this without any accountability — prolong my experience — because I knew I wouldn’t be heard,” Weglinski said.

A University of Utah student, Weglinski is asking for compensation from Davis and the internship coordinator for “extreme distress” and having “impacted her personal life as well as her educational plans.”

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