Ruling: Justice court judge's jailing of woman 'egregious'
A Saratoga Springs woman has won a fight against a justice court judge she has long contended wrongly jailed her for contempt.
Elaine Damron spent 24 hours in the Utah County jail for recording a portion of a court hearing involving her son in 2010. But in an order handed down this week, 4th District Judge Claudia Laycock said that Justice Court Judge Keith Stoney violated the woman's due process.
"Judge Stoney's error was egregious and its consequences were severe," Laycock wrote.
In the past Damron and her family have led some Saratoga Springs residents in a push to have Stoney removed from his spot on the bench, alleging violations of constitutional rights and arbitrary punishments.
Stoney, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, 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 2010, Damron was one of eight or so people in Stoney's courtroom, when court security asked her to put away her cellphone. A short time later, the phone was seen again on Damron's lap.
At some point, Stoney stopped the hearing, announcing he'd been informed someone was recording the hearing, according to Laycock's finding of facts. Recording court proceedings is a violation of court rules, though not one Damron would have known about, Laycock said. Laycock also found that while Damron had recorded part of the hearing, she stopped the first time security asked her to put away her phone.
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.
Laycock said Stoney should have held an evidentiary hearing on the matter. The district court judge also found that Stoney "lacked credibility" as a witness, because his account of what transpired varied so greatly from other witnesses' accounts.
Laycock ordered the contempt filing vacated.
"She can't get the 24 hours [she spent in jail] back, but she can get her clean criminal history back," Greg Stewart, Damron's attorney, said Thursday. "She was vindicated."
Stoney, a former longtime West Valley City prosecutor, has been a justice court judge since 2001.
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.