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North Idaho prosecutor wants judge removed from cases, cites alleged bias, misconduct

The Kootenai County Courthouse. | Jonathan Brunt, The Spokesman-Review
COEUR D’ALENE (The Spokesman-Review) — Kootenai County’s prosecutor is attempting to have Magistrate Judge Clark Peterson removed from all cases involving his office after filing a sexual harassment complaint against the judge, according to court documents.
Peterson had been on leave over personnel issues since May and was publicly reprimanded by the Idaho Judicial Council last month. His leave ended on Dec. 6, according to an order signed by Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice G. Richard Bevan.
Sealed court records obtained by The Spokesman-Review provide insight into the accusations against Peterson.
On May 2, a female deputy prosecutor was taking probable cause orders to be signed by Peterson in his chambers when she walked in on the judge changing into his gym clothes, despite Peterson’s knowledge she was on her way, according to a motion to disqualify Peterson .
Because of the incident, the prosecutor’s office filed a complaint with the Idaho Judicial Council against Peterson, over objections from the female deputy prosecutor, who said she believed it was an accident.
The council hired attorney Marla Henken to investigate the claim. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Her investigation suggested that Peterson engaged in the same or similar conduct with another female co-worker and two male police officers.
The investigation was expanded to other alleged misconduct by Peterson, including that he favored attractive female defendants. On Halloween, Peterson appeared live in court as Darth Vader, walking out from his chambers with ”The Imperial March” playing on his cellphone.
He also ate jelly beans on the record with felony defendants, asking them their favorite jelly bean flavor, the motion says.
Peterson held hearings that excluded the prosecutor’s office, the motion says.
The prosecutor’s office argues that because they accused Peterson of sexual harassment and because of his other alleged past misconduct, Peterson is biased against the prosecutor’s office and therefore should be disqualified from presiding over cases involving the office.
Peterson has been publicly reprimanded by the Judicial Council once in the past for falsifying vacation time records.
Peterson also faced public outcry in 2013, when multiple people complained his devotion to tabletop role-playing fantasy games was interfering with his judicial work. The Spokesman-Review also obtained documentation of a private reprimand by the council of Peterson in 2015.
Prosecuting Attorney Stanley Mortensen also noted that as legal council for the county, it’s his duty to assess liability for his employees.
“Because of the repeated, past misconduct, as well as the more recent misconduct of Judge Peterson, it my opinion that from a liability standpoint, no employee of the Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorneys Office should have any type of contact with Judge Peterson,” Mortensen wrote in his motion to disqualify Peterson.
The reprimand by the judicial council did not waylay Mortenson’s concerns, he said. He also has not seen a copy of the findings of the investigation into Peterson.
“My concerns have not been resolved,” Mortenson said in an interview Friday.
So far, Peterson has not ruled on any of the motions, and in some cases a new judge has been assigned, making the motion moot.
Through his attorney, Jim Siebe, Peterson denied all allegations in the complaint beyond the Judicial Council’s finding that he should have secured his office door.
The prosecutor’s office should not have made the complaint public by filing it in various court cases, Siebe said.
“It’s basically a political hit job,” Siebe said. “That’s confidential information being made public by the prosecutor.”
Copies of the complaint were filed under seal.
Siebe said he personally thinks the prosecutor’s filings are an error in judgement.
“It could be read as an attempt to make non-public things public,” Siebe said.
The complaint
On May 2, an administrative assistant at the prosecutor’s office sent an email at 11:22 a.m. that Peterson was ready to sign probable cause orders, and that the attorney needed to walk over the complaints, according to the complaint filed by the prosecutor’s office with the Judicial Council. The assistant indicated Peterson’s clerk had called to relay the message at 11:19 a.m.
The Spokesman-Review obtained a copy of the complaint with the female deputy prosecutor’s name redacted.
The office typically sends the orders over via email, but if they aren’t ready by 10:30 a.m., attorneys must walk them over to the judge.
At 11:32 a.m., the assistant again emailed the whole office indicating the female deputy prosecutor was on her way.
At 11:35 a.m. the assistant told the clerk via phone that the female deputy had just left the lobby and was on her way.
Not long after, the deputy prosecutor knocked on Peterson’s chamber door and believed she heard him say “Come.” When she walked in, Peterson was “disrobed.”
She closed the door then re-entered to find Peterson in a T-shirt. She later told a friend that Peterson’s lower half was obscured by his desk, but she did not see a waistband.
After the incident, the deputy prosecutor sent an email to her bosses at 12:40 p.m. detailing what happened.
She called the incident “a bit of tragic comedy for future reference and lessons to be learned,” according to the email, which was attached to the complaint.
“Now the cautionary portion of my tale begins: if it is after 11:00 a.m. and Judge Peterson’s door is closed, do not enter upon knocking, even if you think you hear him say ‘come.’,” she writes.
She goes on to describe Peterson “to the utter horror of us both” being “disrobed.”
Peterson was crabby about the situation and the probable cause orders being late, she said, though the deputy prosecutor disagreed they were late.
Peterson asked the deputy prosecutor to convey the need for communication of any delays in probable cause orders to his office earlier.
The deputy prosecutor noted she believed the communication was “as diligent as it could be.”
“It will remain an incident neither of us will relish reliving every time we see each other – for the rest of our lives,” the deputy prosecutor wrote.
At first, the deputy prosecutor’s bosses treated the incident as an accident, but after speaking with the woman directly, they felt it was an “intentional and orchestrated act by Judge Peterson,” according to the judicial complaint.
Two days later, the supervisors, including Mortenson, had a meeting with the deputy prosecutor.
They expressed their concern that this was not an “accident” and that another woman had mentioned something similar had occurred to her.
Mortenson told the deputy prosecutor he was concerned that she was sexually harassed and that he had a duty to protect his employees.
He also noted that the other woman who experienced something similar may be willing to file a joint complaint with the administrative judge.
“Further, we all shared concerns about Judge Peterson treating certain females in a preferential manner, including attorneys and defendants,” the supervisors wrote in the complaint.
The deputy prosecutor said she did not view herself as a victim, that she wanted no part of the “me too” movement and that she was chalking this up to an accident.
She noted Peterson could be rude in court, but that she had learned a lot from Peterson and she didn’t want to take further action or file a complaint.
The next week, the supervisors consulted with the bar counsel and a private attorney with expertise in sexual harassment lawsuits. Those attorneys said the supervisors needed to act both to protect other employees and guard against civil liability.
Mortenson met with the female deputy prosecutor and advised she was temporarily being removed from Peterson’s courtroom, and that they needed to take further action as an office.
The deputy prosecutor became visibly upset , Mortenson wrote in the complaint.
She accused Mortenson of ruining her career, and that the only time she felt victimized in this process was in this moment. She also said that she was surprised as a “white male” that he was participating in this, and that she didn’t want to be part of a “me too” incident that might ruin Peterson’s career, according to Mortenson’s statement.
She also accused Mortenson of having political motivations.
Ultimately, the deputy prosecutor met with human resources and the Idaho Judicial Branch human resources director begrudgingly.
Mortenson’s office filed the complaint with the Judicial Council on May 18.
The complaint to the Judicial Council, along with the motion to disqualify Peterson, have been filed under seal in multiple cases, according to court records.
Peterson already has returned to the bench, Siebe said. Court schedules show many of his hearings are being handled by other judges.
The post North Idaho prosecutor wants judge removed from cases, cites alleged bias, misconduct appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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