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Complaints are mounting against a Utah County judge who earlier this week praised a former Mormon bishop before sending him to prison for sexually abusing two women.
Fourth District Judge Thomas Low on Wednesday became emotional as he handed down a prison sentence to Keith Robert Vallejo, whom a jury convicted of 10 counts of second-degree felony forcible sexual abuse and one of count of object rape, a first-degree felony.
"The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man. But great men," the judge said Wednesday before taking a long pause, "sometimes do bad things."
Two women testified at the trial that Vallejo had inappropriately touched them during separate stays at his Provo home in 2013 and 2014
Julia Kirby who was 19 when Vallejo, her brother-in-law, abused her told The Tribune after the sentencing that she was shocked by the judge's words to her abuser. Now, she plans to file a judicial complaint against him.
And she's not the only one.
Restore Our Humanity, a Utah civil rights group that has launched an initiative to help sexual assault victims, will also file a complaint against Low. Director Mark Lawrence said Saturday that Low's comments showed "absolute disregard" for Kirby, who was sitting in the courtroom that day.
"He completely disregarded her," Lawrence said. "He did something that we see happening over and over from position in authority dealing with these kind of cases: Making the perpetrator into the victim, showing sympathy and praise for the perpetrator and trying to make him into the victim. It's completely inappropriate."
Lawrence said he expects to file the complaint after reviewing transcripts of Low's comments this next week. He said the goal of the complaint is not to disbar Low, but to have him sanctioned and perhaps go through training to better understand sexual assault victims.
"There are some people who would think that we're making a big issue out of this," Lawrence said. "But this isn't a simple misdemeanor or victimless crime. Sexual assault cannot be taken lightly, and everyone must stand up for these victims and survivors."
Criticism of Low initially began in March, after The Tribune published a story about Low's decision to allow Vallejo to remain free on bail pending sentencing and return home to his wife and eight children even after the jury handed down the guilty verdicts at the February trial. Kirby said last month that she felt the decision indicated that Low did not believe that she and the other woman had been abused.
Low reversed that decision during a March 30 hearing, and Vallejo had been at the Utah County jail until his Wednesday sentencing.
Jennifer Yim, the executive director of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, told the Associated Press that the commission has received roughly 40 emails, six voicemails and some Facebook messages about Low's handling of this case since late March.
Ryan McBride, the prosecutor on the case, said Low's comments were 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 has done. The defendant's brother spoke at the hearing and compared Vallejo to Jesus in making the argument that he was wrongly convicted, McBride noted.
"I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge the good things that someone has done in their lives," the prosecutor told The Associated Press. "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.' "
Low on Wednesday sentenced Vallejo to concurrent sentences of one-to-15 years in prison for each of the second-degree felonies, and a five-years-to-life term for the object rape charge.
Kirby said she had hoped Low would order consecutive sentences, because there were two victims.
The judge also became emotional Wednesday as he addressed Kirby directly, telling her that she was "a survivor."
"She has already survived," Low said. "And if she cannot recover and become stronger and become an advocate and become a comforter to others, then who can? The court believes she is as bright or brighter or as strong or stronger than any other victim of sex crimes that this court has ever seen."
While Kirby said she didn't find Low's remarks towards her to be insincere, she felt it was a contradiction for the judge to become emotional when he sentenced Vallejo.
"If he really, really cared about me or about the fact that this person was a criminal, he wouldn't have that kind of sympathy," she said. "It was shocking to me for that reason."
Vallejo has maintained his innocence. When given the chance to speak in court during his sentencing hearing, he did not admit guilt.
Vallejo's attorney, Edward Brass, had asked that his client be sentenced to jail and probation. Pointing to the many letters of support, Brass asked the judge to look at the way Vallejo had led his life up to this point as a law-abiding father who has done everything that the court has asked of him. Vallejo is considering an appeal, Brass said.
Vallejo was accused of inappropriately touching now-23-year-old Kirby in April 2013, when she stayed at his Provo home while she attended Brigham Young University. She told police Vallejo groped her several times while she pretended to be asleep on his couch.
The second victim reported to police that Vallejo also groped and raped her while she was sleeping on a couch at the Vallejo home in 2014, when she was 17 years old.
The Tribune generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Kirby agreed to be named.
A family member reported the abuse to police in January 2015, according to court records. A lawyer with the firm that represents The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also reported the allegations during that time.
Vallejo was released from his bishop duties as soon as local leaders learned of the allegations in 2015, according to a spokesman with the LDS Church.