Poaching Charges Delayed Against Former Judge

Poaching Charges Delayed Against Former Judge

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DUCHESNE, Utah (AP) -- An 8th District Court judge refused to dismiss felony big-game poaching charges against former Judge Ray Harding Jr. despite the fact that a key prosecution witness failed to show up for a preliminary hearing on Monday.

Judge Lynn Payne rescheduled the preliminary hearing for Nov. 12.

Harding's lawyer, Ed Brass, asked the judge to drop the charges because state conservation officer Jack Topham wasn't present.

Topham was the officer who recommended to Duchesne County Attorney Cleve Hatch that the charges be filed. He was one of four witnesses scheduled to testify Monday, but Hatch said Topham had been delayed on his way back to Utah from a hunting trip to Canada.

"I'm having a hard time believing he couldn't have set his vacation a little better so this wouldn't happen," Brass said.

Judge Payne apologized for the delay but said the case will go forward.

Harding resigned from the 4th District bench in February after he was charged with drug possession and the Utah House of Representatives voted to begin impeachment procedures. He was sentenced in April to 120 days in jail for the drug offense.

While the drug charges were pending, witnesses came forward to say that Harding had killed a trophy bull moose and two cow elk during a hunting trip in the Uinta Mountains in October 2001.

After and investigation, Division of Wildlife Resources agents concluded that Harding lacked the proper licenses and shot the animals illegally. He was arraigned on three felony counts of wanton destruction of protected wildlife. Each charge carries a possible penalty of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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