Friday, July 17, 2009

Thomas and Elgee come to terms

The disqualifications discontinue


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Robert J. Elgee

Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas and Judge Robert J. Elgee have apparently buried the hatchet.

After nearly six months of having Elgee disqualified from nearly every criminal case to reach Blaine County 5th District Court, Thomas has discontinued the practice.

Thomas has not filed disqualification motions against Elgee in the last three criminal cases to reach the court.

Disqualifications of Elgee however, continue in Twin Falls County, where Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs joined Thomas last November of blanket DQs of the judge.

Thomas and Loebs continued to be mum on why they haven't wanted Elgee to hear their cases. They're not legally required to disclose their reasons because of Idaho criminal proceedings Rule 25, which provides that one district court judge can be disqualified "without cause" from a criminal case.

"Judge Elgee and I have discussed this issue, and he and I both agree that the contents of our candid discussions should remain confidential," Thomas said Monday.

Elgee could not be reached for comment.

Six months of disqualifications in Blaine County have nonetheless left a heavy court docket for an out-of-town judge. Those cases are now on the plate of Judge John K. Butler, who normally presides in Jerome County. The cases previously went to Judge Barry Wood, who normally serves in Gooding County and is the 5th Judicial District's administrative judge.

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With his pending retirement, Wood in June transferred nearly all his Blaine County cases to Butler.

Despite the disqualifications, Elgee continues as presiding judge in the majority of Blaine County cases.

According to court records, Elgee currently has a load of 139 active cases, 130 civil and nine criminal. Butler has 33 Blaine County cases, 16 civil and 17 criminal. Wood retained two cases, one civil and one criminal.

Both Thomas and Loebs said Wood's retirement is not a factor in deciding whether to seek Elgee's disqualification.

"In cases that come before my office, I view each on its own merit and make a decision to exercise the rule of disqualification on an individual, case-by-case basis," Thomas said.

"My position hasn't changed," said Loebs. "Judge Wood's retirement has nothing to do with my position."

Loebs reiterated that we will not disclose why he doesn't want Elgee on Twin Falls County cases.

"I'm not required to put that out there," he said. "I know why, Judge Elgee knows why and Judge Wood knows why, and I don't want to make a public issue out of it."

Thomas explained that the ethics of the legal profession bar him from discussing publicly why he disqualified Elgee in the past and why he no longer does.

"Under the ethical rules, lawyers are generally prohibited from discussing the reasons or basis for a judicial disqualification in a particular case lest it be viewed as criticizing a judge," Thomas said. "I believe that also extends to stating a reason for allowing a judge to stay on a particular case."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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