Prosecutors should justify blanket disqualification of judge

Editorial from the Idaho Mountain Express

Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas and Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs owe the public an explanation as to why they are automatically disqualifying Fifth District Judge Robert Elgee from hearing any and all felony criminal cases that originate in their counties.

While disqualifying a judge automatically—without a stated reason—is allowed under court rules established by the state of Idaho, it is unusual for prosecutors to disqualify a particular judge in every felony case without exception.

It is more unusual that Blaine’s prosecutor sought out other prosecutors in the 5th Judicial District to lay out his reasons for the blanket disqualification—but refuses to explain to the public why the judge should not be allowed to do his job.

The fact that Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs joined Thomas in disqualifying Judge Elgee from felony cases cries out for an explanation.

Thomas refuses to discuss the matter in public beyond saying that he won’t discuss it in order to protect the judicial system from undue criticism.

Loebs also refuses to discuss his reasons in public and rightly points out that the automatic disqualification rule says prosecutors don’t have to.

Judge Elgee says he is prohibited by judicial ethical canons from discussing it.

The Idaho Supreme Court says only that it will not suspend the rule allowing automatic disqualification in the 5th District—despite the fact that other states have outlawed the practice because of the potential for prosecutors and law firms to “punish” judges that consistently rule against them.

All of the zipped lips leave the public in the dark about how 5th District Court is operating—and that’s not right.

The public deserves an explanation. After all, it’s the public that employs both the prosecutors and the judge—all elected officials—who are at odds.

Why do the prosecutors believe the judge should be disqualified from hearing all felony cases—not just some?

On what matter of law do the prosecutors and judge disagree so mightily as to justify blanket disqualification? Is it a matter of law that needs clarification by the courts or by the Idaho Legislature?

How do the prosecutors justify the increased costs of travel to bring outside judges in to replace Judge Elgee in felony cases?

Why and how did this judicial warfare begin and why did it boil out of Blaine County and into Twin Falls County?

If these questions are left unanswered, the public can only surmise what may be going on—and wild guesses are usually more harmful than the truth.

Editorial from the Idaho Mountain Express

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