Election season is heating up everywhere, and Moffat County is not exempt from controversy.
A chance meeting between County Commissioner candidate Les Hampton and Craig resident Jeff Taylor resulted in a temporary restraining order against Hampton and a court hearing that can only be described as unusual. In the end, the case was declared closed, and no permanent restraining order was issued.
Taylor and Hampton met in The Print Shop on Victory Way on Sept. 22, and Taylor's complaint claimed that, "The defendant (Hampton) instantly reached and took my right hand before I had a chance to lower it to my side and continue my exit." After an introduction Taylor's complaint goes on to say, "The defendant threateningly stated, 'Stay away from my wife,' as my hand was held tightly."
"I was scared to death," Taylor said later. "He had this anger, and we were nose to nose I was scared."
The incident stemmed from an earlier encounter between Taylor and Les' wife, Bonnie Hampton. Bonnie was campaigning for Les when she approached Taylor gardening on his parents' property where he currently resides.
Taylor describes the encounter as polite and brief, and states that he did not know Bonnie was related to the candidate until half-way through their conversation.
Bonnie described the encounter as unpleasant, and Hampton's response to Taylor's complaint stated, "Mr. Taylor assertively told my wife that she didn't need to stop there, that I was the sorriest excuse there was for a candidate, and basically upset my wife by making comments regarding my candidacy and my qualifications for this position."
Hampton feels that some of the animosity between him and Taylor may be politically driven. Taylor was active in the campaigns of Jim Hixson and Pam Foster, who was defeated in the primaries by Hampton.
Hampton's response states that Taylor called him three times to discuss his political views and to offer assistance with the Hampton campaign. Hampton refused the assistance.
Hampton's contention is that he introduced himself to Taylor in The Print Shop and that he shook Taylor's hand and told Taylor that he was aware of the fact that Taylor had offended Bonnie and that Taylor should address such comments to Hampton, himself, in the future.
Dan Ovenden, a manager at The Print Shop who witnessed the encounter said, "Jeff was standing behind the plant stand looking at Les' printing job. Les came up behind him and introduced himself with a handshake. He held Taylor's hand and said, 'From now on, if you have anything to say to me, say it to me and not my wife.'"
Ovenden then said, "Jeff just flipped out. He started yelling, 'let go of my hand, you're hurting me.'"
Ovenden said he didn't notice anything overtly threatening in Hampton's approach to Taylor, and he also believes the complaint is politically motivated.
The temporary restraining order expired Wednesday, and a hearing was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. to determine if a permanent restraining order was needed.
Taylor had submitted a request to appear by telephone instead of in person, but Judge Mary Lynne James said the request was not received in time to be granted. She said the court clerk was asked to contact Taylor and offer the option of appearing by closed-circuit TV, instead.
Taylor said he never received that information, and he did not appear at the hearing.
James declared the case closed as a result of Taylor's failure to appear, and the restraining order against Hampton was dropped.
"I don't know what to say," Hampton said after the hearing. "For some reason, he and his group are focused on harrasment." Hampton is frustrated by what he sees as Taylor's political involvement in the county despite his lack of attachment to the community.
"Here's a guy who has absolutely no business being involved in what he's involved in," Hampton said. "He doesn't pay taxes here. He's not registered to vote here."
Taylor insists his complaint was not politically motivated, and with his request to appear by telephone, he stated that he wished to withdraw his request for a permanent restraining order.
"I have no desire to disrupt his campaign for election and I believe a permanent restraining order would publicly stigmatize the defendant and his wife during the campaign." Hampton can see no other explanation than political interest at work, though.
"I think that's the only explanation," Hampton said. "There's no other reason to think it was anything other than political interests."