Amid complaints, Utah justice court judge will retire
A Utah justice court judge targeted for removal by a group of Saratoga Springs residents will retire by year's end.
Judge Keith L. Stoney's retirement plans were made public Monday in an agreement between the judge and the Judicial Conduct Commission. A woman who Stoney wrongfully jailed in 2010 for recording a portion of a hearing had filed a complaint against him, but Stoney said the complaint did not force him off the bench.
West Valley City has "offered all these 30-year employees something to leave," said Stoney, who worked as a prosecutor for the city before becoming a justice court judge there. Stoney also works part time in Saratoga Springs' justice court. "They made an offer and I decided to take it. When the offer is too good to be true, you take it."
"These people say what they want to say," Stoney added. "I'm just a lowly justice court judge. They make it seem like I'm the king of the hill and they've toppled the king."
Last month, a 4th District judge found Stoney violated Elaine Damron's due process by jailing her for 24 hours in 2010.
"Judge Stoney's error was egregious and its consequences were severe," Judge Claudia Laycock wrote in her ruling.
Damron was in the courtroom for a hearing involving a dog running at large charge against her son, when court security asked her to put away her cellphone. Damron did so, but took the phone out again.
At one point, Stoney stopped the hearing, announcing that he'd been told someone was recording the hearing, according to court documents. Recording court proceedings is a violation of court rules, though not one Damron would have known about, Laycock ruled.
Damron was not allowed to testify during a contempt proceeding held shortly after she was taken into custody and held for an hour, according to court documents. Nor was her son's attorney, who offered to represent Damron, allowed to question witnesses.
Stoney's agreement resolves any outstanding complaints with the Judicial Conduct Commission, and prevents him from returning to the bench in Utah.
"While I would have liked to see the [conduct commission] process play out, I'm most happy for Elaine she stood by her position and was ultimately vindicated after a fair hearing," Damron's attorney, Greg Stewart, said in an email Monday. "Whether or not her taking her case as far as she did had anything to do with Judge Stoney's retirement, I think she should be extremely proud of herself for standing up for her rights like she did."
Stoney said he has not paid attention to Damron's efforts to have him removed as a judge in Saratoga Springs.
Stoney has twice before been advised by the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission Â following complaints in 2004 and 2007, according to court documents to adhere carefully to statutes and case law involving contempt findings.
In June, Stoney appeared before the Utah Supreme Court, arguing against a pending public sanction recommend by the Judicial Conduct Commission. The commission found Stoney acted improperly when he ordered a $10,000 cash-only warrant for a woman, possibly as retribution for her being rude to court employees over the phone.
Stoney told the high court that he believed the warrant was issued by mistake.
"My conduct, at worst, was accidental," he said.
The Supreme Court has yet to issue any public decision on the matter.
"I handle 20,000 cases a year in West Valley and 1,500 or so at Saratoga Springs," Stoney said Monday. "What I do usually makes one party upset. Sometimes we make both parties upset. You do the best you can."