As part of an ongoing series on Justice Court judges, CW has covered, through profiles and other pieces, a number of judges up for retention vote today.
Michael Kwan—The Taylorsville judge was profiled in a March 24, 2010 article where Kwan’s drug court was examined for its effectiveness. One individual in the story, Jessica Deuel, entered the court for a minor in possession of alcohol and tobacco ticket only to enter a treatment community where other offenders introduced her to harder drugs. Struggling to keep up with the service payments, Kwan suggested she sell her plasma to pay her court bills. Deuael did but says it led her to physical seizures. She also says the intense pressure of the drug court and its financial pressures led to a suicide attempt.
Sydney Magid—Up for retention vote in Salt Lake County, Magid was part of a May article for her dealing with the case of Michael Whiteman. Whiteman, an indigent defendant was allowed a public defendant in his domestic violence case, but when his public defender was ready to submit evidence that the woman charging Whiteman with assault--whom he now retains a friendly relationship with--had a previous history of manipulation, Magid knocked Whiteman’s charge down to infractions and thus was able to take away his public defender. Whiteman also tried to submit medical evidence of his schizophrenia to get his public defender back, but Magid refused to accept the evidence making her own determination that Whiteman was competent enough to stand trial without legal representation. Ultimately Whiteman succeeded in having Magid removed from his case.
Keith Stoney—A judge for Saratoga Springs and West Valley City was recently featured in an article where he had a woman in court thrown in jail for having her cell phone out. The woman was there in the Saratoga Springs Justice Court for her son’s hearing on a loose-dog charge, and ironically felt the city was going after them. The woman, Elaine Damron, says she was recording proceedings at one point until a bailiff told her to stop. Later she had her phone out when the bailiff informed Stoney of this and he subsequently threw her in jail. In a small proceeding for Damron, Stoney told her that rules posted outside the courtroom entrance strictly forbid recording in the court. A reporter present at the hearing noted, however, that there was no such restriction posted outside the court. Before Damron was sentenced to jail for 24 hours for having her phone out Stoney did not even ask to inspect the phone to see if it had made two recordings.
Jerald Jensen—The Davis County Justice Court Judge was featured in a May cover story where he explained how he was the first Justice Court in the state to try a pilot program to record court proceedings. By Constitutional construct, justice courts do not make official records of their proceedings, but Jensen was experimenting with recording his court. The recordings, while not admissible in district court, could provide a record of possible courtroom misconduct. Jensen was also witnessed making very brusque statements to defendants in his court room. One woman in his court trying to explain her situation was threatened with jail time if he interrupted him.
Kevin Christensen—Box Elder County’s Justice Court Judge, has been featured in several articles in the City Weekly. In a May cover story he was reported grilling an indigent woman on why she couldn’t afford her own attorney until she broke down and told the judge that she was a widow and she was getting church assistance and selling her belongings to survive.
This also occurred shortly after Christensen was berated by the ACLU for discouraging defendants from seeking public defenders. In one instance Christensen taunted a woman to see why she hadn’t applied at the local Subway, cutting her off and not allowing her the opportunity to speak, according to ACLU Legal Director Darcy Goddard, who witnessed the exchange herself.
Another exchange reported on in a March 31, article included observations made by observers from the University of Utah’s Civil Rights Clinic, involved Christensen denying a woman court-appointed counsel based on the fact that if she could afford to pay the filing fee to request a public defender then she could also afford her own attorney. In that same exchange Christensen asked where she got the idea that she needed a public defender. When the woman said it was her friend’s suggestion, Christensen told the woman’s friend to “knock it off.”
For more suggestions you might want to check on Misty Fowler's Saintless blog which is making some suggestions for your election day judicial inquiries. You can also see below for a voter’s pamphlet provided by the Utah Courts on all the judges up for retention today, that include district court judges as well as justice court judges. The information includes short bios of judges as well as surveys of their performance created by attorneys.