SALT LAKE CITY — A Provo judge is facing a deluge of complaints after calling a former LDS bishop convicted of rape an "extraordinary, good man" who did something wrong, a judicial oversight organization said Friday.
The criticism of Judge Thomas Low began when he let Keith Robert Vallejo out of custody after a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, said Jennifer Yim, executive director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.
Then at sentencing earlier this week, Low said: "The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man. But great men sometimes do bad things."
Yim said 75 complaints made by a combination of emails, voicemails and Facebook messages arrived Thursday and Friday.
The volume is "pretty rare," Yim said. Many wrote they were survivors of sexual assault who felt re-victimized by the judge's comments.
"People have said he's perpetrating rape culture," Yim said. "People have called for him to be removed from office and sanctioned for his conduct."
One of Vallejo's victims said she was shocked by the judge's sympathy, saying it felt like he cared more about the defendant than the victims.
Low did not return a request for comment that The Associated Press submitted through a court spokesman.
One female victim was 19 when she said Vallejo groped her multiple times when she stayed at his Provo house while attending Brigham Young University in 2013. A second victim told police that Vallejo raped and groped her while she slept on his couch in 2014 when she was 17.
There was no indication that the judge had any prior relationship with Vallejo, said Ryan McBride, the prosecutor on the case. Low would have to disclose something like that, he said.
McBride called Low's comment inappropriate and said it may have come in response to more than 50 character letters about Vallejo, most of them detailing the good things he's done. The defendant's brother spoke at the hearing and compared Vallejo to Jesus in making the argument that he was wrongly convicted, McBride said.
McBride said it's not unusual for several friends and family members to speak favorably of sexual assault convicts, most of whom "don't have any criminal history. Most of them are able to conceal that side of their character from those around them."
McBride said he doesn't think it's wrong to acknowledge the good things that someone has done in their lives, "but I think whenever you do that in a case like this, you've also got to say, but it doesn't excuse what you've done."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Vallejo was released from his position as bishop after church leaders found out about the accusations. Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement that church attorneys reported the allegations to police. The LDS Church, Hawkins said, "has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind."
Low's comments also sparked outrage Friday from sexual assault victim advocates.
"The signal that it sends to sexual violence survivors is that if you choose to disclose, that we're still going to treat your perpetrator as if they're a good person," Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Contributing: Annie Knox
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