Wednesday, March 11, 2009

High court declines to suspend DQ rule

Disqualifications likely to continue against Judge Elgee

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Supreme Court has declined to suspend a judge disqualification rule in the 5th Judicial District, which includes Blaine and seven other counties in south-central Idaho.

The court released a short statement Tuesday regarding Idaho Criminal Rule 25, which allows prosecutors or defense attorneys to disqualify one district court judge without stating a reason.

"After full discussion, the court voted unanimously to take no action on recommendations relating to Idaho Criminal Rule 25," the statement says.

Judge Robert J. Elgee requested that the rule be suspended in the 5th Judicial District because of blanket disqualifications against him on felony criminal cases since last November by Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas and Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs.

Both Thomas and Loebs have declined to say why they don't want Elgee to hear their cases, but the Idaho Mountain Express has learned that their dissatisfaction with the judge stems from past pretrial rulings Elgee has made on admission of evidence.

Elgee declined to comment Tuesday on the Supreme Court's decision. His complaint to the high court alleged that Thomas and Loebs were misusing the rule.

Loebs issued a press release shortly after the high court released its decision.

"I do not disqualify judges lightly," Loebs wrote. "I have been the Twin Falls County prosecuting attorney for 12 years. My office handles approximately 700 felony cases per year. In all those thousands of cases, until now, with this judge, I have never used Rule 25 to disqualify a judge.

"Neither I, nor Jim Thomas, have abused Rule 25. We have used it for its intended purpose: to guarantee justice for citizens and crime victims in our counties. The Supreme Court's unanimous rejection of Judge Elgee's request to suspend Rule 25 makes any further comment on the merits of Judge Elgee's arguments unnecessary."

Thomas could not be reached for comment.

Terry Smith:

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