City attorney files personal lawsuit against political candidate over ‘incestuous relationship’ comment
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RIGBY — Rigby City Attorney Robin Dunn has filed a personal lawsuit against a Jefferson County Commission candidate for using the term “incestuous relationship” in reference to him during a debate.
In a lawsuit filed this month, Dunn claims during an April 16 candidate forum commission candidate Tyron “Ty” Belnap said he wants to end the “incestuous relationship between the Jefferson County prosecutor and the city of Rigby attorney,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by EastIdahoNews.com.
Dunn, claims the statement is slanderous, hurts his character and has caused him humiliation as a public figure.
“What I find most concerning is someone that has the background of professionalism and ability to use the English language would say something that is so hurtful and outlandish when it is not supported by fact,” Dunn told EastIdahoNews.com.
In court filings, Dunn says the statement of “incestuous” rises to the level of slander. Dunn lists the Webster’s Dictionary definition of incest, which is “sexual intercourse between (people) too closely related to marry legally.” He writes Webster’s defines incestuous as being “guilty of incest” or “having the nature of incest.”
“I can’t imagine any reasonable person applying that definition to that statement,” Belnap told EastIdahoNews.com. “In fact, it’s embarrassing to even think that people would think that way.”
The dictionary also defines incestuous as “excessively or improperly intimate or exclusive,” according to Merriam-Webster’s website, which is how Belnap says his words should be interpreted.
Belnap explained his statement meant he plans to implement greater organizational separation between the legal staff of the county and city to avoid conflicts of interest. He also said his issue has never been or is now with a particular attorney or law firm.
“Any interpretation to the contrary is a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of my position,” Belnap said.
In court documents, Dunn also claims Belnap made libelous statements about him by writing “dishonest” emails to the current county commission naming Dunn and the prosecuting attorney’s office.
Dunn asserts the emails falsely accuse him of backroom deals with the county prosecutor.
“To this point I’ve had no discussion with them and then (Belnap) alleges we have this close relationship,” Dunn said. “I don’t really have a relationship … since I’ve retired from the county, I’m separate from them. … I’ve never had any dealings with them either backroom or inside.”
Dunn previously served as the Jefferson County Prosecutor for 34 years.
The lawsuit shows Dunn is seeking over $10,000 for damages against him.
“Without question they damaged me,” Dunn said. “Reputation, character — everything I stated in the complaint. I believe to be true and accurate.”
Dunn believes Belnap has simply been ill-informed about his relationship with the prosecutor’s office. Dunn also said this lawsuit has nothing to do with Belnap’s political campaign.
“I didn’t even know who (Belnap) was until I saw his picture when you did the candidates (profiles), then I recognized him,” Dunn said. “I’ve never had personal conversations with him.”
While not personally named in the suit, Jefferson County Prosecutor Paul Butikofer said he is disappointed in Belnap’s alleged statements.
“I was very disappointed that a candidate running for an elected position to represent Jefferson County would say something like that,” Butikofer told EastIdahoNews.com. “It’s absolutely baseless in law and fact.”
Belnap said he hopes Dunn will retract the lawsuit and move on with life.
“I’m disappointed in the pettiness and misrepresentations of what a person is trying to say,” Belnap told EastIdahoNews.com. “Up to and including suing a person to in my opinion for the sole purpose of harming them politically and materially.”