Justice court hands down controversy

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 9:00 p.m. MDT

It all began with a loose dog, a cell phone and a jail sentence. Twenty months and dozens of legal proceedings later, the battle still rages: Judge Keith Stoney v. the Peltekian family.

The Peltekian case has been a flash point in a grass-roots uprising against Stoney and prosecutor Lindsay Jarvis, who recently resigned. There has been a lot of he-said-she-said in the ensuing war of words, but one thing seems clear: Something is wrong with Stoney's courtroom, if not the entire justice-court system. All of which is why the Peltekians were invited to testify in front of the state Legislature earlier this year.

In the summer of 2009, Ed and Elaine Peltekians left their son Ryan's dog in the care of Ed's sister, Ann Bieker, while they went on vacation. While they were gone, their dog got loose and was picked up by the city. No problem, all they had to do was pay a fine, right? Wrong. Ann, Ed and Ryan were forced to appear in Stoney's court, where they say they were abused and threatened for not pleading guilty to three misdemeanors that would have meant thousands of dollars in fines, a criminal record and probation.

"We were willing to pay a fee to get the dog out," says Ed. "But we were not willing to become criminals. We were treated as if we robbed a store. Stoney threatened me with jail many times. I held my ground and he didn't like that."

After several confrontational court appearances, Elaine decided to record the proceedings against her son on her cell phone. "There is no recorder in the court," she says, "so they can do whatever they want. We had no proof of what was happening. There were no signs that said I couldn't do it."

When an officer of the court told Elaine that recording was banned, she says she stopped. Moments later, she powered off the phone and put it away. Then Stoney announced that he had been informed that someone was recording in his courtroom, and Elaine was taken to a back room.

"It looks like someone is going to jail," she says she heard Stoney say as she was taken away. She was forced to wait the rest of the day until the court was empty before she returned to appear before Stoney for contempt of court. She apologized and explained that she didn't know it was against the rules. She was accused of recording a second time after she had been asked not to, even though an examination of her phone later revealed she had made only one recording.

"They say I pleaded guilty; I didn't," says Elaine. "They just took me away. I wasn't given a hearing."

Elaine was handcuffed and driven to a jail in Springville, where she was booked, dressed in orange pants and a striped shirt and roomed with other inmates for 24 hours.

"I was numb," she says. "I had never been in jail. I haven't even had a speeding ticket in 15 years. My stepfather is a retired detective. My mom worked in law enforcement. I did volunteer work for law enforcement. Until it happens to you it's hard to believe the abuse that goes in (Stoney's) court."

Bieker was sentenced to a six months probation, and Ryan's case was overturned in district court, with the judge writing that Ryan's constitutional rights were violated. Ed's case was dismissed, as well.

Elaine says she will file a complaint against Stoney with the Judicial Conduct Commission. A district judge ruled that she never should have been a criminal defendant, noting that she was never charged or convicted of a crime.

And yet the case drags on. The city is appealing the district court rulings.

"To think this all started over a dog that got out of its yard," says state Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork.

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