Judge targeted for removal from the bench for decision on same-sex foster parents

Posted at 9:01 AM, Nov 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-16 11:59:49-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of groups have targeted a Price juvenile court judge for removal from the bench for his order to remove a foster child from the home of a lesbian couple, claiming the child would do better with a heterosexual couple.

The liberal think tank Alliance For a Better Utah launched an online petition Monday seeking to recall 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen over the ruling. Last week, the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission.

Judge Johansen came under criticism from LGBT groups and even Utah Governor Gary Herbert when he ordered a 9-month-old girl removed from the home of Beckie Pierce and April Hoagland. Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services challenged the order. On Friday, Judge Johansen backed off, allowing the child to remain until a Dec. 4 hearing.

7th District Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen (image courtesy Utah State Courts)

The Human Rights Campaign said in a letter it posted that Judge Johansen violated judicial conduct rules.

“As our complaint states, this directly violates Section 2.3 of the Utah Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This Section explicitly provides that ‘A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice or engage in harassment, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, or harassment based upon . . . sexual orientation,'” the organization claimed.

The Utah Judicial Conduct Commission, which investigates judges, would not confirm or deny it has received a complaint from the HRC, but said it is required by law to investigate any complaint received.

Judge Johansen has declined requests for comment, citing rules that prohibit him from speaking on pending cases.

On Monday, Alliance For a Better Utah said Judge Johansen should be impeached by the Utah State Legislature.

“If Judge Johansen wants to act like Judge Judy, then he should get a reality TV show. In the meantime, his past and present conduct is unbecoming of a judicial officer,” ABU’s Josh Kanter said in a statement. “It is not enough to simply refer to the Judge’s conduct as ‘puzzling’ and suggest that he must follow the law. Judge Johansen should be impeached and removed from office.”

In Utah, judges are appointed to the bench by the governor and face a retention vote every six years.The Utah State Legislature does have impeachment authority over judges. The Utah Supreme Court also hands out discipline, and voters decide every six years whether to retain judges.

Judge Johansen was given an 88-percent retention rating at his last evaluation by the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which included surveys by people who had appeared before him and colleagues.  He was voted retained by voters in the 7th Judicial District in 2014 and his next retention election is in 2020.

Judge Johansen was reprimanded in 1997 for slapping a teenager in the courthouse and came under criticism in 2012 for ordering a woman to cut her daughter’s hair for a reduced sentence.

Read the retention report for Judge Johansen here:

Learn more about judicial evaluations and retention elections here.