Judge under fire for telling rapist he's a 'good man'

Judge Thomas Low
Embattled Utah judge Thomas Low (Salt Lake Tribune)

A Utah county judge is facing mounting complaints after he praised a former Mormon bishop during his sentencing for rape.

Judge Thomas Low sentenced Keith Robert Vallejo to up to life in prison after he was found guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. 

"The court has no doubt that Mr Vallejo is an extraordinary, good man. But great men," the judge said Wednesday before taking a long pause, "sometimes do bad things."

Julia Kirby, sister-in-law to Vallejo, was one of his victims. She told the Tribune she was shocked by the judge's praise for her abuser, and plans to file a judicial complaint against him. 

Utah civil rights group Restore Our Humanity plans to do the same. Judge Low's comments to Vallejo showed "absolute disregard" for Ms Kirby as she sat in the courtroom, director Mark Lawrence said.

"He did something that we see happening over and over from position in authority dealing with these kind of cases: Making the perpetrator into the victim, showing sympathy and praise for the perpetrator and trying to make him into the victim. It's completely inappropriate."

Criticism of Judge Low began in March when he allowed Vallejo to remain free on bail after his conviction. The decision was reversed at the end of March. 

The chance of the judge being punished however appear slim as his comment does not fit within the five types of judicial misconduct, a criminal law expert told Time magazine. 

One misconduct category could only apply if officials found Judge Low's comments were damaging to the administration of justice, but that is difficult to prove, University of Utah criminal law professor Paul Cassell said.