Controversial judge agrees to retire; pending complaints will be dismissed

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Elaine Damron-Peltekian got a call Monday that left her with mixed feelings.

For more than two years, her family had been embroiled in a campaign against Saratoga Springs Justice Court Judge Keith Stoney. They battled him in court, on ballots and in front of the state Legislature.

They were preparing for a hearing next month on complaints she and her son Ryan filed with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission.

But on Monday, she was told that an agreement has been reached between the conduct commission and the judge. Stoney will retire on Dec. 31. Investigations into any pending complaints — the agreement only states that there are one or more — will be suspended. After his retirement, the complaints will be dismissed.

"I just felt like justice really hasn't been served," Damron-Peltekian said. "Although we were successful in taking down a judge, he just gets to step down and retire and collect his pension from taxpayers. But he really hasn't been disciplined."

According to the agreement, which was signed Sept. 11 but made public on Monday, Stoney will retire from the bench and seek no future judicial appointments. Stoney, who presides over justice courts in Saratoga Springs and West Valley City, did not respond to a request for comment.

"The negotiations that culminated in the written agreement commenced before (Stoney) announced his retirement," said Colin Winchester, executive director of the Judicial Conduct Commission.

Damron-Peltekian's life, and those of her family members, crossed with Stoney's in 2010 after Ed and Elaine Peltekian left Ryan Peltekian's dog in the care of Ed's sister-in-law, Ann Bieker. The dog got loose and Bieker, Ed Peltekian and Ryan Peltekian were ordered to appear before Stoney in Saratoga Springs Justice Court on misdemeanor charges related to the incident.

On Aug. 27, 2010, Damron-Peltekian was in Stoney's courtroom in support of her son, who was asking that his charges be dismissed, when a court volunteer noticed that Damron was recording the court proceedings on her cellphone and notified a security officer, according to a ruling written by 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock. The officer informed her she couldn't have her phone out. Damron pushed stop and stored the phone in her purse.

The woman pulled it out again three minutes later, but stored it again when the officer approached.

Soon after, the hearing was halted when prosecutor Lindsay Jarvis told the judge she had been informed someone was recording the proceedings. Stoney ordered the officer to take Damron-Peltekian's cellphone and place her into custody, Laycock wrote.

The woman was handcuffed for an hour until she was brought back into Stoney's courtroom where she admitted she had recorded the hearing, but only once and not after she was told it was prohibited. Other witnesses spoke to the judge "informally without being sworn in" and said they had seen Damron-Peltekian make two recordings. The phone was never brought into the courtroom to check for recordings, Laycock found.

Stoney ruled that Damron-Peltekian was in contempt of court and sentenced her to five days in jail, but suspended all but 24 hours of the sentence. The woman was immediately taken to the Utah County Jail in handcuffs where she spent 24 hours in custody.

"I was completely stunned and in disbelief that they would think I'm such a bad person and such a criminal that they would have to put me in jail," she said. "I didn't put my phone away immediately and all hell broke loose. ... It was just ridiculous. We felt like we were in a different country with a tyrant for a judge."

It was later determined that there was only one, 19-minute recording on Damron's phone.

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