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NEW RULES TO GUIDE REVIEW OF JUDGES

SHARE NEW RULES TO GUIDE REVIEW OF JUDGES

The state's only agency with the power to review the behavior of judges on and off the bench has never had a rule book.

Supreme Court justices finally wrote one Wednesday for the Judicial Conduct Commission and its investigator. The commission, composed of lawmakers, a judge, two citizens and three attorneys, now knows:- Investigations must afford judges all the rights of due process given to other professionals accused of misconduct. Specifically, notices to judges must contain references to the judicial canons the judge supposedly violated.

- It can't undertake its own investigation of conduct; it first must receive a verified complaint from someone outside the agency.

- Members must explain how their findings of fact are linked to conclusions and any recommended sanctions.

- The Supreme Court will defer to the commission's fact-finding ability.

- Findings and conclusions are most often measured against a "pre-ponderance of evidence" standard. Previously, the commission measured the evidence against a "clear and convincing" standard, higher than the preponderance standard.

- It can still keep most complaints secret.

"The truth is that I'm grateful for the guidelines," said executive director Steve Stewart.

The commission has been in existence in one form or another for 23 years. But lawmakers mostly ignored it until 1995, when they finally appropriated enough money for a full-time director and part-time administrative assistant and investigator.

Stewart, the former director of the state Real Estate division, immediately took two cases to the high court for review.

The cases involving former justice-court judges Gaylen Buckely of Riverton and Richard Worthen of Lehi, were originally prepared by the commission's former director Dean Sheffield.

They fell short of the guidelines detailed in the decision released Tuesday, the justices decided.

Consequently, the high court remanded both to the commission for further review and took the opportunity to lay down some law in its 43-page decision.

"Our conclusion that errors have been committed (in the two cases) . . . should not be construed as an indication that the Commission has in some manner fundamentally failed or that the conduct of these judges does not merit its attention," wrote Chief Justice Michael Zim-mer-man.

"Rather, due to the relative newness of the commission and the paucity of guidance provided it . . . it is not surprising that we find the proceedings before us wanting in some respects. Today, we undertake to supply some of the guidance the Commission needs if it is to fulfill the essential tasks that it has been assigned."

The commission found Buckley and Worthen each guilty of wilful misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Buckley was accused of improperly delegating authority to his clerk, who used his signature stamp on charges which led to a man's wrongful incarceration two years ago.

Worthen failed to report DUI convictions in his court to driver's license officials. He also improperly heard cases involving people he knew, according to the commission.

The justices found errors in each of the judges' cases. The commission probably must now start over with each investigation, providing new notices to the former justices of the peace, Stewart said.