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Attorneys blamed for court delays

Judge’s conduct being examined at hearings

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An overly aggressive lawyer from the Utah Attorney General's Office helped create such an adversarial atmosphere in 3rd District Juvenile Judge Joseph Anderson's courtroom that Anderson ended up with more trials than other juvenile judges, a local attorney testified Tuesday.

John Laherty, a lawyer with Lokken & Associates, which represents indigent parents in child protection cases, said at a Tuesday hearing that Anderson's workload bogged down under the prolonged and often acrimonious proceedings — and Anderson ended up not being able to get cases adjudicated within legally required deadlines.

The situation arose after the Judicial Conduct Commission, which investigates complaints against judges, recommended that the Utah Supreme Court publicly reprimand Anderson for allegedly not handling juvenile hearings in a timely fashion.

Laherty at one point joined with the assistant attorney general and a lawyer from the state's Guardian ad Litem Office, which represents children, to ask that cases be reassigned to other judges. This was not a political statement against Anderson, but an effort "to provide relief to the situation," Laherty testified.

But Laherty refused to complain about Anderson to the Judicial Conduct Commission, which investigates complaints against judges. So what caused the hostile environment in Anderson's courtroom?

"I would attribute it overwhelmingly to the attorneys," Laherty testified. "Judge Anderson was considerate to counsel to a fault."

Anderson's conduct on the bench is being probed in a series of public hearings at the order of the Utah Supreme Court, which tapped 4th District Judge Anthony W. Schofield to serve as special master to investigate.

State law requires that once a child is removed from a home, the judge must adjudicate the case within 60 days. The commission found Anderson failed to hold adjudication hearings within the 60-day time frame in 11 cases and did not address two other cases in a timely way.

Earlier, there were efforts to mediate Anderson's situation, but they were unsuccessful. Among other things, Schofield must decide whether Anderson has been rendered unable to perform his duties as a judge.

The hearings, although somewhat casual in nature with all parties seated around a table, nonetheless are significant legal sessions with sworn witnesses questioned by Schofield, an attorney for Anderson and an attorney for the Judicial Conduct Commission. A lawyer representing the Utah Supreme Court also is present, and a court reporter keeps an official record.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com