In re Worthen

In In re Worthen, 926 P.2d 853 (Utah 1996), the Court carefully defined the elements necessary to establish the constitutional ground for discipline based on "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings a judicial office into disrepute." 926 P.2d at 870-72. In brief, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute is: (1) conduct; (2) that is at least negligent if it occurs within the judge's judicial capacity, or willful if outside the judge's judicial capacity; (3) that reflects a breach of the ethical canons applicable to judges as contained in the Code of Judicial Conduct. Id. Further, this "unjudicial conduct" must be: (4) prejudicial to the administration of justice, meaning that it is conduct that tends to injure or impair, is hurtful to, damaging to, or detrimental to, the activities that constitute the administration of justice, including the entire range of activities and functions of the judicial system. Id. Finally, the conduct must: (5) bring the judicial office into disrepute, meaning conduct that has "the effect of lowering public esteem for a particular judicial office and thus tends to lower public esteem for the entire judiciary so as to reduce its effectiveness. " Id. at 871. The Court construed the grounds described in article VIII, section 13 of the Utah Constitution and in section 78-7-28(1) of the Utah Code as permitting disciplinary action against a judge for "willful misconduct in office," or "willful and persistent failure to perform judicial duties." The Court held that the term "willful" consisted not merely of deliberate or volitional action, but that it necessarily included a specific element of wrongful purpose or scienter. "Otherwise, a judge could have been acting out of the best of motives, could have been negligent only in exceeding his or her powers, and still could be found guilty of 'willful misconduct.'" Id., 926 P.2d at 868. The standard the Court adopted required a showing "that a judge intentionally committed a lawful act for an improper purpose or intentionally committed an unlawful act that the judge knew or should have known to be beyond his or her lawful power and committed the act for an improper purpose." Id. at 869.