Utah deer hunters have a new target in their sights: 3rd District Judge Leslie Lewis.
Members of the hunting community have started a grass-roots campaign to oust Lewis after she ordered that a defendant's brother be arrested for expressing displeasure with her views on hunting during a hearing last February.
Opponents have launched a Web site, www.firejudgelewis.com, that contains a link to the in-court video of the February episode, which has been posted on the Web site YouTube. The posting is one of the first instances of Internet campaigning being used in a judicial election in Utah.
"She thinks she's God in her courtroom," said hunting advocate Tony Abbott, who hosts The Big Outdoors, a local radio show on KFAN AM1320. Abbott said he has no ties to the court case but is just expressing his personal views. He said Lewis' lecture has angered some people who believe she should be voted off the bench during next month's judicial-retention election.
Lewis is among 24 district-court judges up for retention election this time around. She has caused controversy in the past for her occasional verbal outbursts. She is also the only district-court judge up for retention who received a sub-standard score in two areas of a recent survey by attorneys who appear in her court.
According to the survey of 123 attorneys, 60 percent found Lewis' behavior "free from bias and favoritism." Only 54 percent of the attorneys approved of how she "perceives legal and factual issues." Under standards set by the Utah Judicial Council, judges should pass with 70 percent approval or greater. Lewis has countered that under state law, she passed the review by receiving at least 70 percent approval on 75 percent of the 15 questions in the questionnaire.
The hunting-community controversy stems from a February hearing on a third-degree felony count of wanton destruction of protected wildlife filed against Michael Jacobson. In the hearing, Lewis was recusing herself from the case because of her personal bias against deer hunting.
While expressing her views, Lewis confronted Jacobson with questions of how he feels while shooting a deer. Jacobson's brother, Kent Jacobson, stood up to leave the courtroom. Lewis ordered a bailiff to bring him back into the courtroom.
"Now, why did you feel the need to make such an explosive and clear indication of your displeasure or boredom at being here?" Lewis asked.
Kent Jacobson responded: "OK, it's not just the displeasure of being bored here. The problem is, is we have just as much rights of going out and shooting deer as you have the right ..." He was then cut off by Lewis.
"What are you talking about?" she injected, and then ordered that he be arrested and sent to a holding cell.
Court records show Lewis recused herself and sent the case to Judge Dino Himonas, who ordered Michael Jacobson to pay $2,500 in restitution and to give up his hunting rights for two years.
In a statement released Wednesday, Lewis said she was constrained by the Code of Judicial Ethics from debating or commenting on the matter.
"It's my obligation as a judge handling a criminal calendar to maintain control over my courtroom," Lewis stated. She also points out that she has been certified by the Judicial Council as fit to stand for re-election.
Abbott said he planned to dedicate his call-in show Wednesday evening to discussing Lewis' actions. He declined to identify the people behind the creation of the anti-Lewis Web site.If voted out, Lewis would become only the second district-court judge to be removed from the bench by voters. In 2002, Judge David Young was ousted by a 53 percent vote after a public campaign was waged to unseat him over accusations of leniency and bias involving sex offenders and DUI offenders.