A 3rd District judge who has come under criticism for her treatment of a person in her courtroom now faces a another claim that she violated the rules of judicial conduct by knocking 10 years off a sex offender's sentence without telling the prosecutor.
Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom said his office conducted an investigation into an allegation regarding possible misconduct on Leslie Lewis' part after a defense attorney came forward with information. Yocom's office has filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission, which investigates and acts on claims of judicial misbehavior.
Attorney Roger A. Kraft said he was upset with what he considered to be "unprofessional conduct" on Lewis' part during a Feb. 10 sentencing for his client, a convicted sex offender who had pleaded guilty to three counts of sodomy on a child involving a 6-year-old girl.
After the hearing, Kraft sent a letter to Lewis outlining his hope that their courtroom argument had not adversely affected his client, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison despite a pre-sentence report that called for less time.
Kraft said Lewis then called him on March 15 and apologized for her behavior. "She asked me, 'How much time did I give him?' and I said, 'Ten years to life, consecutive on all three counts,'" Kraft said. "She said, 'If I have jurisdiction, I'm going to change that for you.'"
But what happened next disturbed Kraft.
"She said, 'I would appreciate it if you would not discuss this with the prosecutor,'" Kraft said. "My jaw kind of dropped and I asked myself, 'Am I really hearing what I'm hearing?'"
It is a violation of the rules of judicial conduct for a judge to take an action like that without the prosecutor being informed.
Later, when a legal defender called Kraft July 26 about mounting an appeal for the client, Kraft learned that court records now showed a 20-year sentence.
"I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath and decided whether my ethical duties outweighed my duties to my client," Kraft said.
Lawyers who know of any judicial misconduct are required to report it. On the other hand, they also have an obligation to fight for their clients.
Kraft did disclose his conversation with Lewis to prosecutor Patricia Parkinson.
Yocom said his office filed its complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission on Oct. 23. "We reviewed it and had our investigators interview everyone, and we concluded that we were obliged by the rules of professional conduct to report it."
Yocom said either the Utah Attorney General's Office will work to get the original sentence reinstated, or the legal defender's office will withdraw its appeal to the Utah Court of Appeals and this case can go back to state district court where a motion can be entered to get the original sentence reimposed.
Either way, the district attorney's office wants the man, James Robert Scott, 46, to serve the 30-year prison term he first got from Lewis.
Lewis made headlines just last week after viewers began checking out a Web site titled firejudgelewis.com that leads to a February courtroom video on YouTube.com. In it, Lewis can be seen and heard loudly berating a member of the audience after he heaved a sigh and left the courtroom during a hearing for his brother, who was charged with wanton destruction of wildlife.
Lewis directed a bailiff to bring back the man, Kent Jacobson. She briefly questioned Jacobson, who was not charged with any crime, then had him handcuffed and placed in a holding cell. Jacobson said he, too, has filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission.
As of Tuesday, viewers had clicked on the Web site more than 32,000 times.
A viewer's blog that contained a death threat against Lewis posted last week prompted heightened security for the judge.