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Panel finds no judicial misconduct in teen assault case

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The panel that disciplines judges in Idaho has exonerated a southern Idaho judge who sentenced a teen to probation for assaulting a football teammate in a controversial case earlier this year.

The Idaho Judicial Council announced Monday that an investigation into Fifth District Judge Randy Stoker found no misconduct.

"A unanimous Judicial Council found there was no violation of the Idaho Code of Judicial Conduct by the Honorable Randy Stoker and closed, without discipline, its investigation," Sara Thomas, administrative director of the courts, wrote in a prepared statement.

Stoker was widely criticized by some who thought a sentence for John R.K. Howard was too lenient and that the judge failed to recognize the racial implications of the case.

Howard, who is white, was one of three defendants charged with sodomizing a disabled black teen with a clothes hanger in the locker room of a southern Idaho high school in 2015. Investigatory documents showed the victim was bullied by his teammates and given nicknames like "grape soda" and "Kool-Aid."

The prosecutor handling the case later told the judge that he believed the assault was neither racially motivated nor a sex crime, and so amended the charge to felony injury to a child as part of a plea deal. During sentencing, Stoker echoed the prosecutor's comments, telling Howard that if the case had been racially motivated the teen would be headed to prison rather than probation.

The Idaho Judicial Council later announced that it had received three complaints regarding Stoker's handling of the case alleging impropriety, erroneous decisions and legal incompetence. The council reviewed the trial transcripts, the entire court file and a confidential report by the council's own special investigator, and found the complaints were without merit.

Judges often face criticism when the sexual assault cases they oversee make national headlines. Such was the case for California Judge Aaron Persky, who was accused of being too lenient when he sentenced Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexual assault. Like Stoker's case, an investigatory panel found no evidence that Persky displayed bias.

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