Hailey attorney Douglas Werth has made a campaign issue out of criminal case disqualifications filed by prosecuting attorneys against his election opponent, incumbent Judge Robert J. Elgee.
As the May 25 primary election nears, when voters in the eight counties of the 5th Judicial District will decide who will be Blaine County's district court judge, Werth's most recent newspaper advertisements are critical of Elgee because of disqualifications filed against him by prosecutors in Blaine and Twin Falls counties.
"Judge Elgee doesn't want to talk about the disqualifications, and I can understand why," Werth said in an interview. "In my opinion, the disqualification issue continues to be a significant issue to the 5th Judicial District—the disqualifications of Judge Elgee specifically. Criminal cases are up 20 percent in Twin Falls County and Judge Elgee, for a significant period of time, has not even been put on the list as an alternative judge in felony cases."
Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas and Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs began blanket disqualifications of Elgee on criminal cases in late 2008. Thomas discontinued the practice about a year ago, but Loebs said Wednesday that he still doesn't want Elgee hearing criminal cases in Twin Falls County.
"We have not changed our attitude on that at all," Loebs said. "I am taking the same precautions as before."
Neither Thomas nor Loebs have ever publicly stated why they've disqualified Elgee. They are not required to because of Idaho judiciary rules that allow a prosecutor or defense attorney to disqualify one district court judge without stating a reason why.
Loebs said Elgee is the only judge he has ever disqualified.
Thomas has not become involved in the election, but Loebs said he endorses Werth.
"I think my endorsement is kind of obvious," Loebs said. "I've met with Doug Werth and I told him I would support him."
Elgee said nearly every attorney in Blaine County and many others in the district have publicly endorsed his re-election.
"My comment on the DQs is that they happen to all judges," he said. "That's a rule the Supreme Court allows—there's nothing you can do about it. I would say that with the ones here, Mr. Thomas gave me his perspective, I gave him mine and they stopped.
"If attorneys are not satisfied with my handling of a case, or they have a problem with me, my door is always open. Resolving disagreements, that's what a judge does, whether it's in or out of court."
Terry Smith: email@example.com