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Ex-judge sentenced to jail, says arrest saved her life

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 19 2013 4:25 p.m. MST

Former Salt Lake City justice court judge Virginia Ward appears in 3rd District Court in Tooele, Utah on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, for sentencing on charges of possession with intent to distribute oxycodone. She faces up to 15 years in prison.

Francisco Kjolseth, (C) 2013

TOOELE — Virginia Bauskett Ward looked small standing before the judge, her hands clasped behind her back.

Less than a year ago, she was the one sitting on the bench as a Salt Lake City Justice Court judge handing down justice as she understood it. Tuesday, all she could do was hope for it.

"I'm sorry for the damage that I've done and I accept your judgment," she told 3rd District Judge Robert Adkins.

The former judge, 46, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years' probation for her guilty plea to possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance, a second-degree felony.

Adkins also ordered Ward to serve 100 hours of community service, pay a $1,000 fine and submit to at least monthly drug and alcohol tests.

The former judge will also be subject to random searches, will have to provide probation officers with a list of any prescriptions she is given and undergo further treatment and possible electronic monitoring if deemed necessary by probation officers. Ward was ordered to report to the Salt Lake County Jail on Nov. 26, although attorneys indicated she will likely serve in a neighboring county jail as a security precaution.

Ward was serving as a justice court judge when the Drug Enforcement Agency arrested her after she received a package containing 338 oxycodone pills.

"During the course of his investigation, (a DEA agent) identified approximately 170 packages shipped to the defendant from numerous individuals around the country," the charging documents state, adding that Ward was seen retrieving the packages on five occasions.

Ward told agents "she had been obtaining shipments of oxycodone to treat her neck pain," the charges state. "She also admitted to trading controlled substances that she had received in order to obtain oxycodone and other controlled substances."

Ward was suspended and placed on administrative leave after her arrest. She later resigned from her position just before she pleaded guilty to the distribution charge in August.

But she said the arrest that cost her her place on the bench ultimately saved her life.

"I wouldn't be alive if I hadn't been arrested," she said. "I don't think it would have worked to continually use at that level. I'm glad to be out of that very dark place."

Ward apologized Tuesday and acknowledged that she had "hurt the profession," specifically naming a range of groups affected by her arrest, including those in the judiciary and law enforcement, attorneys, and defendants whom she had placed on probation or in treatment.

"Obviously I would like to go back and redo a lot of choices and undo a lot of carnage, but that isn't something that is available to me," she said.

Defense attorney Earl Xaiz said Ward had been involved in a serious car accident in 1998 and underwent several surgeries, but she still suffered from chronic neck pain. He said she had a legitimate prescription for oxycodone at the time of her arrest, but her addiction led to the illegal activity and her consuming more and more pills.

Still, he said she never sold drugs for profit but purchased them online and traded them for oxycodone.

He asked the judge to follow the recommendation of Adult Probation and Parole investigators who prepared a pre-sentence report suggesting that Ward be sentenced to probation and home confinement. He pointed to the woman's family, stating that she was needed by her young children.

"She held a position of community trust and, that's true, she violated that trust," Xaiz said, arguing that the recommendation "strikes an excellent balance between rehabilitation and Ms. Ward's own unique circumstances."

He added: "She truly is remorseful for what she has done."

Assistant attorney general Scott Reed acknowledged the difficulties in Ward's personal life and called the case a "tragedy on many different levels," but he told the judge that a six-month jail sentence was necessary.

"This is not a case where we are trying to make an example of a judge or a lawyer or police officer or other public servant … but at the same time we cannot minimize the conduct that has been involved here," Reed said.

She was a sitting, active judge, a member of the Utah State Bar, a mother to two children at the time, he said. But he also noted that she was a first-time offender and was "entitled to that benefit."

Ward was charged with a second identical distribution count, but it was dismissed in exchange for her guilty plea.

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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