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Harding's wife hopes case won't go to trial

Ex-judge expected to change plea from not guilty to guilty

PROVO —The wife of a Provo judge who resigned from the bench last week and is facing drug possession charges doesn't want her husband's case to go to trial and says she had hoped that they would reconcile.

Word also came from the courts Monday that ex-4th District Court Judge Ray Harding Jr. is expected to change his pleas of not guilty to guilty on two felony counts of drug possession. At the request of Harding's defense attorney and the Utah Attorney General's Office, a special hearing has been set Tuesday morning before 3rd District Judge Timothy Hanson in anticipation that Harding will change his plea, said Jan Thompson, communications director for the Utah Administrative Office of the Courts.

Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson said Harding's Friday resignation was "the appropriate thing to do." Bryson added: "He has jeopardized his life, his career and his family relationships because he was using drugs himself."

"I hate to see people have their personal life interfere with their professional lives," said Tom Means, director of the Utah County Public Defender's Association.

Harding's wife, Anne Harding, said in an e-mail to the Deseret News that she was proud of her husband "for taking responsibility for his actions and acknowledging his culpability in this situation."

"I hope he will continue to take the high road and work closely with the Attorney General's Office in order to avoid a public trial," she wrote. "In light of the amount of evidence collected in his case, I would expect that my husband would continue on the path he started on Friday by avoiding additional cost to taxpayers, embarrassment and pain a public trial most certainly would create."

Ray and Anne Harding, who have been married 2 1/2 years, are in the midst of a divorce. It was Anne Harding who summoned police to their Highland home in July after an "intervention" to get the judge to face his alleged drug addiction.

Police then conducted a search of the home for drugs and drug paraphernalia. After his arrest, Ray Harding continued to collect on his $103,000 yearly salary while on administrative leave. That ended Friday with his resignation as a judge.

Ray Harding Jr. was charged with two third-degree felony counts of drug possession. He is the son of a retired judge.

In October, Harding voluntarily checked himself in to a treatment center in California but was met at the gate at the Salt Lake International Airport with a protective order taken out by Anne Harding, who said she feared for her physical safety and the safety of some of the children. She said she believed her husband would seek revenge for turning him in to police.

But Harding's adult son, Justin, wrote to the court stating that he did not fear his father at all and had not given Anne Harding his consent to include his name in the protective order.

In addition, the resigned judge spoke out against his wife's actions: "Since my brief marriage to Anne, these children have been manipulated and hurt significantly."

Anne Harding's recent e-mail expressed no bitterness.

"The man I married was a fine judge, a loving husband and an honorable man," she wrote. "It deeply saddens me that his life has fallen to such a state and it is my hope that he will take this as an opportunity for soul-searching, deep reflection and a step towards a life of recovery.

"Although my husband and I are seeking a divorce and have experienced the horrible destruction drug addiction brought to our family and our marriage, I will always love him and hold a special place in my heart for him," Anne Harding wrote. "While it was always my hope we reconcile, it is apparent he is choosing to travel the road to recovery by himself. He will, however, always have my support and best wishes for a successful and joyous life."

News of the resignation came as a breath of relief to court officials in the 4th District. There has been a shortage of judges since Harding was arrested.

"We are now taking the appropriate steps to request that (Harding's) position be declared vacant and the process be initiated to select a new judge," said presiding 4th District Judge John Backlund.

Myron March, deputy state court administrator, said official notice of the judicial vacancy will be sent out later this week or early next week, which will include notices sent out to all members of the Utah State Bar. Utah law requires notice of a judicial vacancy to be posted for 30 days, at which time candidates will undergo a background check.

March said the check includes criminal history, financial credit and a search for any pending litigation.

Applications are then sent to the seven-member 4th District Judicial Nominating Committee, who are appointed by the governor. After a review, the committee will forward as many as five final candidates to the governor who will then forward his selection to the Utah State Senate for approval by a majority vote.