Idaho News

Petition seeks to unseat judge after sentencing in Dietrich attack on disabled student

Twin Falls County District Judge Randy Stoker
Twin Falls County District Judge Randy Stoker Times-News

An online petition drive has drawn more than 165,000 signatures urging the Idaho Judicial Council to remove Judge Randy Stoker from the bench in response to Stoker sentencing a teen to probation and community service for an assault on a black, mentally disabled member of the Dietrich High School football team.

Stoker sentenced John R.K. Howard, 19, Friday to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service on a charge of felony injury to a child, the Times-News reports. The judge also granted a withheld judgment, meaning the conviction could eventually be dismissed.

At a Friday sentencing hearing for Howard in Twin Falls County District Court, Stoker said the October 2015 locker room attack was not racially motivated despite evidence that white players and coaches called the disabled teen “fried chicken, grape soda and Kool-Aid.” A regional NAACP spokeswoman scoffed at the judge's comments that those food terms are not racially charged, the Times-News reports.

Organizers of the petition said in an update last month that the Idaho Supreme Court would investigate the allegations against Stoker. However, a spokesman for the Idaho Judicial Council, Robert Hamlin, told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday that he could not confirm whether a complaint has been filed against Stoker or whether an investigation is taking place.

Hamlin, who served as the council’s executive director for 29 years before retiring in 2010, said council proceedings are confidential. They only become public if a case moves forward, the judge has been given a trial and the council recommends the Idaho Supreme Court remove the judge or take other action. At that point, the entire file would be available to the public, he said.

The attorney representing the family in a civil case against the school said he disagrees with the sentencing, but the judge shouldn't be attacked, KIVI-TV, Channel 6, reports.

"I think we have a strong duty as citizens and particularly lawyers to not denigrate, run down a judge but to honor that office," said E.Lee Schlender an attorney representing the victim in the civil case.

Howard,who now lives in Texas, and 17-year-old Tanner Ray Ward were both originally charged as adults with felony counts of forcible sexual penetration with a foreign object. But Ward’s case was later transferred to juvenile court, where hearings and documents are sealed. A third teammate was charged from the beginning as a juvenile, and his case remained sealed.

The family's lawsuit seeks $10 million from the school district. That trial is expected to start this summer in federal court.

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