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Little judicial misconduct seen

Only one judge chastised during 2004 fiscal year

For whatever reason, it's been a quiet year for judicial misbehavior.

The Judicial Conduct Commission has chastised only one judge in the state — dismissing the case confidentially with a warning to the judge.

The JCC's annual report, made public this past week, showed there were 94 complaints lodged against Utah judges this year, down from 97 the year before. Of those, the JCC found only one merited action during the 2004 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004. Another judge received a dismissal of the complaint against him (or her) with a warning in the new 2005 fiscal year. Two other complaints are still being investigated.

The remaining 90 complaints were dismissed.

The JCC is charged with investigating complaints about judges and, if necessary, making recommendations for reprimand, censure, suspension, removal or involuntary retirement of judges. The JCC previously could issue informal private reprimands, but a recent Utah Supreme Court ruling — as well as action by the State Legislature — prompted revisions in JCC procedures.

The JCC now has the option of dismissing a complaint and not making it public, but sending a warning to a particular judge in situations where the misconduct is not particularly serious but does warrant some correction.

The case that was dismissed with a warning in fiscal year 2004 involved a district judge who, during a telephone motion hearing, was found to violate the Code of Judicial Conduct that requires judges to be "patient and dignified."

"The JCC found that the judge's conduct constituted troubling but relatively minor misbehavior for which no public sanction was warranted," the report said.

"The judges are behaving themselves," said JCC executive director Colin Winchester, adding he's not really certain why there were so few actionable complaints this past year.

He speculated perhaps that was due to the fact the JCC now has a higher profile, in part because an audit by the Legislature included 12 recommendations for changes in JCC actions. The JCC plans to formally respond to the recommendations in December.

In addition, there has been more news media coverage of the JCC in recent years than in the past, Winchester said, and its Web site has been expanded to provide more information than before.

Winchester also suggested that matters such as complaints often are cyclical and there could possibly be an upswing in the future of complaints that require more action.

Although Winchester did not say so, in recent years there also have been two highly publicized cases involving judges who either left the bench in disgrace or were removed. Former 4th District Judge Ray Harding Jr. resigned shortly before being charged with drug possession. He later pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain and served jail time.

Third District Juvenile Judge Joseph Anderson was removed from the bench by the Utah Supreme Court, which found Anderson had violated the law by taking too long to make decisions regarding certain cases of juveniles who had been taken from their homes.

The JCC's Web address is www.utahbar.org/uljc/judicial_conduct_commission.html.


E-mail: lindat@desnews.com