ST. GEORGE – Judge Ronald L. Read has disqualified himself from hearing Varlo Davenport’s case after attorney Aaron Prisbrey alleged there was illegal communication between Read and Utah Assistant Attorney General Michael Carter, who is representing Dixie State University.
Prisbrey is representing Davenport against a single class B misdemeanor charge in which Davenport is accused of assaulting a student during a classroom acting exercise.
Davenport was fired from Dixie State despite his 15 years of tenure as a theater professor. A faculty review board cleared Davenport and recommended his reinstatement. Instead, Davenport was charged with assault.
Read recused himself Tuesday in an order which states:
Pursuant to Rule 29 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure and in the interest of justice the Defendant’s Motion to disqualify Judge Ronald L. Read is granted. Another judge shall be assigned to the action pursuant to Rule 29(c)(2) and Utah Code Ann. Section 78A-7-208.
Prisbrey believes the case will now go to Presiding Judge John Walton of the 5th District Court, because the only other Washington County Justice Court judge, Douglas Whitlock, has already recused himself from the Davenport case due to a conflict of interest.
A motion filed by Prisbrey April 1 alleged that an illegal ex parte communication took place between Read and the prosecution; that is, one between them without the defense being notified or present.
Prisbrey found out about the contact in a filing by Carter in mid-March and asked Read about it in a March 21 hearing, according to an affidavit filed in support of the motion to disqualify.
“The Court admitted that the ex parte communication took place,” the affidavit states, “but denied that anything substantive was discussed.”
Prisbrey served the court with a Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA, request March 22 and received a recording of a conversation between Carter and Read that took place in Read’s courtroom Feb. 29, the affidavit states. The communication was substantive and violates rules of ethics, Prisbrey said.
“The fact that you have a sitting assistant attorney general having ex parte communications with a judge, is just beyond the pale,” Prisbrey said. “That is so inappropriate.
“This is the stuff that they learn in the first year of law school, that you never have secret communications with a trier of fact. It’s just so incredibly egregious to have any communication about the case, let alone substantive communication.”
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