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Conduct commission reports reprimands of Utah judges

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One judge was bounced from office, two were publicly reprimanded and five others were given private "informal" reprimands, according to the Judicial Conduct Commission's annual report.

The judge removed from office was no surprise. Former Fourth District Judge Ray Harding Jr. was removed from office after being criminally charged with felony drug possession. Harding resigned the office before the commission could make its formal recommendation to the Utah Supreme Court.

The commission's job is to investigate complaints of wrongdoing by Utah judges and make recommendations to the state Supreme Court for disciplinary action, if warranted.

The commission received 97 complaints during the fiscal year 2003. Of these, 76 were dismissed and 19 are still being investigated.

The commission's annual report names two judges who were given formal orders of reprimand:

The commission determined that Third District Juvenile Judge Joseph Anderson had not handled nine juvenile cases quickly enough to meet the law and did not act on two others in a timely fashion. Anderson, who is undergoing public disciplinary hearings at the order of the Supreme Court, denies these charges.

Washington County Justice Court Judge Richard M. Dobson was found by the commission to have violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to control their outside activities so as not to cast doubt on their ability to act impartially. The report said Dobson's daughter had been placed under house arrest by another judge, was someplace she shouldn't have been when police found her and that Dobson chewed out the police officers on a cell phone, stating he was going to "come after (them) with the full weight of the law." He apologized to the police the next day.

The commission also issued informal orders of reprimand, which did not name the judges in question and which were delivered in private. Among the judges sanctioned were:

A small claims judge pro tempore, who also has a private law practice representing debtors in bankruptcy, presided over a one-month trial. During that time, he filed a bankruptcy proceeding on behalf of one of the defendants, then filed a notice of bankruptcy in the small claims case.

A justice court judge who saw a dog running loose began criminal proceedings against the dog's owner without an indictment, information or citation. When the individual tried to get the judge disqualified, the judge did not recuse himself and did not refer the request to a different judge.

A district court judge "engaged in personal communications, outside of the courtroom, with two women who had previously appeared before him," according to the report. Judges are supposed to avoid the appearance of impropriety and not exploit the judicial position.

A justice court judge used a government computer to download adult pornography on four different days. The incident was not reported to the commission for more than two years. This judge has not downloaded pornography since that time. However, judges are required to observe high standards of personal conduct "so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved."

A district court judge became angry with an attorney who did not want to proceed with a criminal hearing. The judge told the lawyer to stop wasting the court's time, then had the attorney taken into custody. Later, in chambers, the judge used abusive language with lawyer. The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to be patient, dignified and courteous to those who appear before them.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com