Committee Fails to Act on Judges Bill

Committee Fails to Act on Judges Bill

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A bill that would change the way judges are reprimanded failed to make it out of a legislative committee Thursday, when after about 90 minutes of debate lawmakers decided to move on to other matters.

"A little more thought on this would be a good thing," said Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray.

Orem Republican Rep. Katherine Bryson's bill would require the Judicial Conduct Commission, upon which she sits, to make public any "formal" reprimand of a judge. Currently, the commission, after a formal hearing, can ask the Supreme Court to issue an informal, or private, reprimand.

Bryson said her bill is an attempt to provide more public information on judges who have fallen short.

During a hearing on Bryson's bill before the House Judiciary Committee, Rich Schwermer of the court administrator's office said lawmakers should wait until a legislative audit is finished this spring and give laws passed a year ago time to take effect before attempting to change the commission and Supreme Court's power over judges.

The bill also would give the Utah Supreme Court the power to suspend without pay or remove a judge before the judge is convicted of a crime in court.

Some aspects of the bill and a separate attempt to impeach 4th District Judge Ray Harding Jr. appear to attempt to get Harding and other troubled judges to resign. Harding has been suspended with pay since last summer after being charged with felony drug possession.

Harding is scheduled to stand trial March 18 on two third-degree felony counts of drug possession. He was arrested July 13 after police said they found cocaine at his home in Highland. He was released the following day on bail and entered a three-month treatment program at the Betty Ford Clinic in California.

Harding entered an innocent plea last fall and asked a judge to throw out evidence obtained during the search of his home. The judge denied the request last month.

Supporters of Bryson's bill have been bothered that Harding has continued receiving his judge's salary while filing motions that have delayed his case. Rep. Neal Hendrickson, D-West Valley, has filed a resolution starting the impeachment process on Harding in the Utah House.

Other committee members questioned suspending a judge's pay until that person had been found guilty of an offense.

It wasn't clear Thursday when the bill would come up for discussion again.

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

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