Leslie Lewis

Hunters, gun owners and some attorneys are rejoicing that voters ousted 3rd District Judge Leslie Lewis from the bench in Tuesday's retention election. But the controversial judge does have admirers who are not pleased to see her go.

Lewis, who has been a judge since 1991, will remain on the bench until the end of the year when a nominating committee seeks a new appointee.

Lewis ran into a firestorm of negative publicity when an anonymous individual created an Internet site with a videotape of her in court angrily berating the brother of a man who had broken the law by helping a friend move a poached deer.

The brother, who was not charged with a crime, heaved a sigh and walked out of the room, rousing the judge's ire. She had him brought back in by a bailiff, scolded him, then when he answered back, had him handcuffed and placed in a holding cell.

"We are thrilled with the results of the election," said Charles Hardy, public policy director for GOUtah! (Gun Owners of Utah).

"What the results say loud and clear is that attacking the individual right to own and carry firearms, or the lawful activities associated therewith, is a career-limiting move for public officials in the state of Utah," Hardy said.

As for putting a man not charged with a crime in a holding cell, Hardy said that is scarcely surprising.

"A judge who doesn't respect the individual constitutional right to own and carry weapons is going to violate other rights in a host of other ways. We have to ask if this man would have been treated this way over other issues."

Hardy said his organization recognizes there are "honest differences" of opinion over gunownership, but a judge is obliged to put aside personal biases and uphold the constitution.

Still, Lewis has her defenders.

"I liked Leslie. I worked with her at the district attorney's office — she was one of my mentors. She was a tough prosecutor and a tough judge," said attorney Gregory Skordas. "She was outspoken at times. The problem was, her rulings were always good, but her comments were sometimes impulsive."

Skordas said overall one would walk out of her courtroom feeling she had made the right decision even if people disagreed about the way she reached it.

"Even though she was a tough sentencer, I always enjoyed appearing before her," Skordas said. "I think it was a great loss."

Victims of sexual assault found an ally in Lewis, who was greatly respected by police when she worked as a prosecutor dealing with sex crimes.

When sentencing convicted sex offenders as a judge, Lewis has been known to verbally light into someone guilty of vicious crimes and also be quite reassuring to the victim.

One example: Dominic Benito Alires, who was convicted in 2001 of brutally raping two young girls in separate incidents, kidnapping them at knife point — a 13-year-old waiting for the school bus and a 12-year-old walking to school.

"You, sir, are a man who has no respect for other human beings," Lewis snapped at Alires in a cold voice.

The judge, who said she had rarely seen emergency room reports showing such terrible physical damage to bodies, referred to Alires as a "vicious animal" and dismissed his apology as "all lip service."

When one of the girls tearfully told Lewis in court that "no one can reduce my sentence" of sorrow over being raped, Lewis spoke warmly and encouragingly to the girl.

Lewis also has — depending on the circumstances of a case — given substance abusers a chance to straighten out their lives through treatment programs.

When an individual stays clean, Lewis leads the courtroom in a round of applause for the person, and the judge has a wall of photographs of people who have successfully finished substance abuse treatment.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com