Idaho judge got heat for Dietrich rape case decision, but panel says he’s in the clear

By Nathan Brown

Twin Falls Times-News

District Judge Randy stoker speaks to a defense attorney on March 17 at the Twin Falls County Courthouse.
District Judge Randy stoker speaks to a defense attorney on March 17 at the Twin Falls County Courthouse. Twin Falls Times-News

BOISE — The Idaho Judicial Council has unanimously decided that District Judge Randy Stoker did not violate the state's Code of Judicial Conduct in his handling of an assault case at Dietrich High School.

The eight-member council received three verified complaints about Stoker after he sentenced 19-year-old John R.K Howard, the only person charged criminally as an adult in the case, to probation in February. Howard and two other white football players had been accused of shoving a coat hanger into the rectum of a mentally disabled black teammate in a locker room in October 2015.

Investigations by the state and the school district found a pattern of sometimes racially based harassment on the team, and the case drew national attention, with some people objecting to what they viewed as a too-light sentence or questioning the role race may have played in the outcome. A $10 million civil suit against the district filed by the victim's family is still pending in federal court.

The complaints "alleged an erroneous decision and sentence, legal incompetence, appearance of impropriety and failure to disqualify," according to a news release from the Judicial Council. The release then goes through these points and says Stoker did not violate the code.

The Council's role, the news release says, is to take action if there is evidence a judge violated the code of conduct, not to second-guess a sentence.

"The Council is not an appellate court," it says. "It does not have the authority or jurisdiction to review or revise a decision made or a sentence imposed by a court."

The plea deal, the release says, was agreed to by both the prosecutors and defense counsel, and Stoker imposed a sentence within the statutory guidelines. As for "failure to disqualify," the Council said this was "based upon an allegation that the defendant was given leniency because Judge Stoker is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," which Stoker isn't. The Council also said it found no evidence of legal incompetence on Stoker's part.