This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
We are fortunate to live in a country that has had its share of extraordinary and great men.
No matter what 4th District Judge Thomas Low thinks, Keith Robert Vallejo is not one of them.
Vallejo is a sex offender and a rapist, tried and convicted of 11 felonies for sexually assaulting and violating two young women in his home over and over. His crimes were not a simple mistake. They reflected a pattern of predatory behavior that spread over more than a year.
The tears that Low shed, however, weren't for Vallejo's victim sitting in his courtroom, but for the man who had repeatedly assaulted her.
"The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man," the judge said, fighting back the emotion. "But great men sometimes do bad things."
The unconscionable comments have drawn condemnation from across the country, but the judge has not demonstrated the decency to clarify or, better yet, disavow his remarks, suggesting he may stand by them.
And it's not the first time Low demonstrated abysmal judgment during the Vallejo case.
In February, after Vallejo had been convicted by a jury, Low turned him loose until his sentencing, believing this "great man," as he later called him, would not pose a risk to the community or the victims.
"Watching a man being taken away in chains isn't the kind of closure the court is willing to endorse at this time," the judge said.
The gavel and the robe are symbols of respect that Low no longer deserves. He should resign from the bench.
How can any future sexual assault victims enter Low's courtroom and trust they will get fair treatment and the justice they deserve?
If he does not step down, there are two other avenues to remove him from the bench: The Judicial Conduct Commission can vote to remove him subject to review by the Utah Supreme Court or the Utah Legislature can begin the impeachment process.
Either would be suitable, but neither is likely unless there is intense public pressure and strong, principled stances from our elected leaders.
Gov. Gary Herbert believes the process should be allowed to play out.
"The [judicial review] process will work and let's find out what their decision is," Herbert said Tuesday. "Certainly I understand we ought to respect and have consideration and compassion for the victims. … I don't review the specifics of judicial conduct."
It is well past time for Utah to join the ranks of states that have a mechanism for a recall election not just for judges but for all elected officials.
This is not the first instance when a judge has drawn well-deserved public opposition for outrageous rulings and disgraceful public statements and, unfortunately, it is not the first time that the public has been powerless to rectify the situation.
Look at Judge David Young, who was twice reprimanded by the Supreme Court and criticized for being biased against women and gays and too lenient toward sex offenders and drunken drivers for example, refusing to jail two men who had sex with a 12-year-old girl at a party.
He survived a retention election in 1996 before being ousted in 2002.
Or Judge Leslie Lewis, who quietly knocked 10 years off a sex offender's sentence without notifying the prosecution and threatened to lock up reporters and others whom she viewed as questioning her authority. Lewis was ousted in a retention election in 2006.
And then there's Judge Scott Johansen, who initially ordered a 9-month-old foster child be removed from the custody of a lesbian couple because he felt the child would do better in the home of a heterosexual couple. He later reversed his order.
Johansen, who had previously been reprimanded for slapping a teenager at the courthouse and reducing a juvenile's sentence if her mother cut off the girl's hair, retired in the face of the ensuing firestorm. .
It's true these judges were run off the bench eventually. But every day a jurist like Judge Low clings to his office without the confidence of the public he is supposed to serve is another day that trust in our legal processes is undermined.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @RobertGehrke