Erstwhile San Juan Commission candidate Kelly Laws’ lawsuit challenging the residency of the man who defeated him in the Nov. 6 election could and should have been filed months ago.
So said Seventh District Judge Don Torgerson in a ruling in favor of Willie Grayeyes, a member of the Navajo Nation – and now indisputably a San Juan County commissioner.
Torgerson in his ruling, which was issued Wednesday, Jan. 30, said Laws, a Republican, never challenged Democrat Grayeyes’ eligibility to vote or his declaration of candidacy for office, something he should have done, by law, no later than 45 days before the election.
Laws, noted the judge, was aware Grayeyes’ residency was in contention as early as last March, as well as a preliminary injunction a federal judge filed in August. Laws’ attorneys filed the complaint on Dec. 28, the very last day allowable within the legal timeframe.
Tellingly, Torgerson noted Grayeyes spends the majority of his time at Piute Mesa on Navajo Mountain – a remote region of San Juan County more than four hours from Monticello and much closer to services in Arizona. He determined Grayeyes was a registered voter, had been registered to vote for at least a year and that now and at the time of the election he met the statutory requirements to hold office.
Torgerson also barred the lawsuit due to “laches,” meaning Laws did not file his lawsuit in a timely manner – or at the earliest possible convenience. Quoting the Utah Supreme Court, he wrote, “… equity aids the vigilant, not he who sleeps on his rights.”
Torgerson noted Grayeyes maintains traditional Navajo cultural practices. He also pointed out Grayeyes has a sister and daughter who live on Navajo Mountain and that testimony demonstrates that he is related in some way to most residents there.
Grayeyes also was raised there and his umbilical cord is buried there, which is part of Navajo culture. Torgerson also noted that while Grayeyes has an Arizona driver’s license and gets his mail from a post office in that state, “so do all of the other Utah residents at Navajo Mountain/Piute Mesa. His interactions with Arizona as a matter of convenience are not dispositive of his residency.
“More importantly, Grayeyes has been a registered voter in San Juan County since 1984 and has consistently voted in every election since then without his voter registration ever being effectively challenged.”
In his conclusion and order, Torgerson reaffirmed the results of the election and awarded Grayeyes “reasonable costs,” for having to defend the lawsuit, the second one he has faced over the same accusations over the past 10 months.
At one point, San Juan County Clerk John David Nielsen removed Grayeyes’ name from the ballot – an act a federal judge ruled was unlawful when he ordered he be placed back on the ballot last August.