A Utah judge heard arguments Monday in a lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages for hundreds of people who say they were wrongly arrested by a disgraced former state trooper.
Lawyer Robert Sykes said the bogus drunken-driving stops by Lisa Steed affected up to 2,000 people in cases dating back to 2006, including a man who lost his livelihood when he couldn’t afford to pay an impound fee and his truck full of tools was sold.
Sykes asked Judge Michael Allphin to make the case a class-action suit on Monday, which could allow hundreds more alleged victims to join the three already named in the case and collect about $20,000 in damages each if Sykes wins.
“All the cases rest upon a common foundation of fraud, dishonesty and falsehood,” Sykes said in court.
But state attorneys said not all the DUI arrests were bogus, and a judge must consider each individually.
“The facts are different in each case,” said Assistant Utah Attorney General Meb Anderson after the hearing. “Some of the arrests were valid. Lisa Steed believes they were all valid.”
Sykes said asking each victim to file relatively small lawsuits would be too costly and complex.
No immediate deadline was set for Allphin to rule on whether the case should be a class-action lawsuit. Anderson said a decision could take months.
If the case isn’t approved as a class-action lawsuit, its future is unclear, including for the three victims already named.
Steed was a rising star with the Utah Highway Patrol who was named trooper of the year in 2007. She made 400 DUI arrests one year, more than some officers in decades, Sykes said.
But her career took a turn in 2012 when she acknowledged in court that she purposely left her microphone in her patrol car during one arrest so her superiors wouldn’t know she was violating agency policy.
Within months, a prosecutor was refusing to take Steed’s DUI cases if her testimony was the only evidence and a Utah Highway Patrol memo surfaced flagging a pattern of questionable arrests.
Steed was fired in November 2012, accused of violating department policies, falsifying police reports and using questionable practices when making DUI arrests. Steed fought the dismissal, acknowledging that she messed up but saying it shouldn’t end her career. An administrative law judge disagreed and upheld her firing.
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