A prosecutor and a Supreme Court justice sparred Monday over the question of whether the high court should review a trial judge's decision to place convicted child molester Allan B. Hadfield on probation instead of imposing the prison terms required by Utah law.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Robert N. Parrish asked the justices to take the extraordinary action of reviewing the sentence imposed by 4th District Judge Cullen Y. Christensen a review that is not afforded by standard appellate procedures.Parrish argued that the judge's ruling is so far out of line that the Supreme Court should force him to impose a prison sentence.

"There was absolutely no evidence, and so there was no evidence anywhere in the record to support that finding," Parrish argued.

Parrish said that in order to place Hadfield on probation, the judge must have found Hadfield met each of 12 criteria to qualify for an exception to Utah's mandatory sentencing scheme. Parrish said Hadfield clearly failed on five of those criteria and so the judge had no choice but to place him in prison.

But Justice Michael D. Zimmerman questioned whether Parrish had any right at all to appeal the sentence. He said the relief Parrish was seeking, known as a writ of mandamus, is appropriate only in the most egregious circumstances. The justice said that unless Parrish could show that the judge's ruling was completely without basis, it would not qualify for a mandamus procedure. And without a mandamus writ, prosecutors can't appeal a judge's sentence.

Defense attorney Bradley P. Rich echoed those concerns.

"There is nothing here that rises to the kind of abuse of (judge's) discretion appropriate for a writ of mandamus," he said.

Hadfield, of Lehi, was convicted on seven counts stemming from the sexual abuse of his 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. Despite the severity of the crimes, Christensen did not sentence Hadfield to prison, but instead placed him on 20 years probation.

The justices took the case under advisement and were expected to rule soon.