A 7th District Juvenile Court judge has not been suspended after slapping a teenager at the courthouse, but he may be referred to the Judicial Council or the Judicial Conduct Commission for discipline.
Judge Scott Johansen admitted slapping the face of a 16-year-old boy after the boy's father brought him to the courthouse in Price because he believed his son was stealing. The father, a friend of Johansen's, asked the judge to talk to the teen.During the conversation, the boy became belligerent and insulting. Johansen knocked the boy's hat off and then slapped his face.
"I knew immediately it was the wrong thing to do. This was just a friend of mine who brought his kid over. . . . It was different than if I was acting with the authority of the state, but it was still not the right thing to do," Johansen said.
He said it is sometimes difficult wearing two hats in a rural community where a judge is relied on for help both officially and unofficially.
"It is not uncommon for people to call my house at 10:30 at night for help," Johansen said. "It is not easy being two different people. But I guess I have to do a little better."
A statement released from the court administrator's office said: "While the father did not consider Judge Johansen's actions to be inappropriate under the circumstances, the county attorney has been made aware of the incident."
Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate did not return Deseret News phone calls Friday.
Acting court administrator Pamela Green-wood said she doesn't condone Johansen's actions, but court officials believe "it was an isolated incident, and he wasn't acting in the official capacity of a judge.
"However, we consider it a serious issue, and it's been referred to the Judicial Council for review and possible disciplinary action."
But a representative of the Judicial Conduct Commission told judges gathered at a judicial conference Thursday that such complaints against judges should be referred to the conduct commission, not the judicial council.
Sylvia Bennion, a citizen who has served on the commission nine years, said the commission received several citizen complaints the last time the Judicial Council disciplined a judge privately instead of referring him to the Judicial Conduct Commission for an objective investigation. "I think that escape hatch should be closed," she told judges.
The conduct commission has been empowered by the state constitution to investigate complaints against judges. "It could be that there would be a complaint to the conduct commission," said Cheryll May, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
According to the state's press release, the father is grateful to Johansen for trying to help with his son. The father and son haven't been identified by court officials.
Johansen said that after talking to him, the father decided to press criminal charges against his son. The boy had a serious drug-and-alcohol problem, according to Johansen. The judge said after he sentenced the boy to detention and rehabilitation, the father publicly thanked the court.
"They (the parents) thanked the entire system for giving them back their son," Johansen said.