Reprimanded judge takes his case to Utah Supreme Court

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 6:29 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — West Valley City Justice Court Judge Keith Stoney challenged the Judicial Conduct Commission before the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday.

The commission issued an order of reprimand against Stoney because they believe he intentionally entered a $10,000, cash-only warrant against a woman for a minor traffic violation because she allegedly mistreated the judge's clerks. They asked that the Utah Supreme Court implement the reprimand.

But Stoney wants the opposite, citing a lack of evidence, and was adamant that he did no such thing — at least not intentionally.

"My conduct, at worst, was accidental," he told the state's high court. "Even in decisions this court handed down you said judges are human. I added an extra zero. I put a comma in the wrong spot. I don't know what happened."

The Judicial Conduct Commission wants to reprimand the judge because it believes he not only entered the warrant on purpose, but that he did it in response to the behavior of a woman who appeared in his court. The commission believes Stoney's alleged actions are "prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings a judicial office into disrepute," according to court documents.

The case centered around Barbara Acord, a woman who was cited in May 2009 for not having proof of insurance and having expired registration. The woman produced proof of insurance, leading to the dismissal of that charge, court documents state, but the registration citation went unaddressed.

The court sent the woman a delinquent note in June 2010, prompting her to call Stoney's clerks on July 6 and ask to see the judge. A hearing was set for the same day, then Aug. 4. When she called back to say she wouldn't come in at all, court documents state, Stoney issued a warrant for her arrest.

The judge said he most likely meant to issue a $100 warrant and misplaced his punctuation. He reiterated to the justices that he rarely issues such a high warrant and that he didn't know of the woman's alleged conduct to the clerks until she came to a hearing in August.

"There is no evidence I knew who she was or had any vindictive intent at all," Stoney said.

Judicial Conduct Commission attorney Susan Hunt pointed to a confidential hearing the commission held where they questioned witnesses, including court clerks. According to court documents, the clerk who was told to issue the warrant called it "overkill" and believed it was issued because Stoney wanted to "make a point."

"The finding of the commission was that the bond being set at $10,000 was a response to Ms. Acord's treatment of the clerks," Hunt said. "There was substantial evidence at the hearing."

According to court documents, the commission "rejected" Stoney's explanation that what he did was a mistake and felt that he should have provided evidence to prove that, if that was the case.

One issue pointed to Tuesday, though, was the fact that the commission didn't find any problems with Stoney's behavior after Acord's initial complaint in August 2010. It was only when they read the docket and saw the amount of the warrant that they became concerned.

"I think, in this case, the bail is excessive," Hunt said. "In this case, $10,000 is not debatable."

But the Utah Supreme Court justices questioned whether Stoney's actions caused problems in the public perception given that only Stoney and potentially two clerks absolutely knew of it. They also asked Hunt whether Stoney even knew about the woman's apparently rude conversation with the clerks.

"A ruling setting improper bail without improper purpose is not (an issue) for the Judicial Conduct Commission," Justice Christine Durham said.

"There was improper purpose," Hunt responded.

Justice Thomas Lee also questioned the commission's actions.

"There is no member of the public complaining," he said. "The sequence of events does seem strange to me. ... Ms. Acord came forward saying Judge Stoney was rude to me. (The commission) didn't find misconduct with respect to Ms. Acord in the hearing (but are now) saying public confidence in judiciary is undermined."

The matter was taken under advisement. A ruling is expected in the coming months.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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