In his 16 months on the bench, Bingham County Magistrate DaLon Esplin has ordered a drunken driver to take classes to improve his English, given a 78-year-old nursing home resident a year of probation and ordered a teen to stop masturbating.
Some consider his sentences unfair. Others find them creative, including just the type of probation terms that will send a message to teenagers and adults who repeatedly break the law.In June, many of the attorneys and others who work with Esplin gave him poor ratings for the way he interprets the law, said Mark Bennion, a citizen representative on the Seventh Judicial District Magistrate Commission, which reviews new judges' performance.
The commission will hear from those same people again when it reviews Esplin's performance for a third time in October.
Esplin said he is not worried because his sentences are based in law.
"I don't think I'm more or less strict than other judges," he said.
New judges routinely are reviewed after six months on the bench and second reviews are uncommon, but a third review is rare, said 7th District Judge James Herndon, the administrative judge presiding over the commission.
Only one other magistrate has faced a third review in the last 13 years, said John Peay, director of information systems for the Idaho Supreme Court.
"The request was made because of the comments from the public and members of the bar regards to certain sentencing procedures the judge was following," Herndon said.
Some of those disagreements came to a head in March when some members of the bar - including both public defenders and prosecutors - succeeded in reversing Esplin's decision to revoke a 15-year-old boy's drivers license for six years after the boy pleaded guilty to drunken driving. They thought the sentence was unfair and illegal.
Attorney Stephen Blaser said a judge wants to be tough enough so people avoid breaking the law again, but sometimes a judge can be so harsh that people give up.
"Esplin's heart is in there; he's just not used to the system," Blaser said. "In some areas, he's been too harsh."
Esplin could be questioned about his actions when the magistrate commission meets to review his performance in early October. If members are not happy with the most recent evaluations from attorneys and others who work with him, they could vote to dismiss him.
Peay said no Idaho magistrate has been dismissed since 1985.
Esplin's poor June evaluations has Bennion already considering a vote against him if it comes to that.
"I'm very disappointed in him," said Bennion, who has been on the commission for 20 years. "I take this commission very seriously. I have a responsibility to appoint a good judge. You have to have some-one that has the ability and is trained."
But Bingham County Commissioner George Katseanes defends Esplin's work.
"I think that the public will realize the judgments he renders are sound and are judgments of concern," Katseanes said.