Will an online petition to remove a Utah judge actually work?

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – We often see online petitions asking for change, but after a Utah woman created one requesting the removal of a judge for giving a man too light of sentence for possession of child pornography, we wanted to find out if the petition would actually work.

Just like this one, most petitions are generally started by a citizen who sees something they feel is wrong and finds inspiration to bring awareness to the issue. They range widely in topics but many are either political or seeking justice for certain types of crimes.

After Judge Douglas Hogan sentenced Doug Saltsman, the CEO of a software company who was convicted of possessing child porn to 210 days in jail, the online petition for his removal from the bench started to circulate.

Related: Utah CEO caught with child porn sentenced to 210 days in jail

Cathy Hoffman, a victim advocate and survivor of human trafficking, is the woman behind the petition. She said she often follows sex crime cases all over the nation and was aware of the Brock Turner case where that judge lost his job in a recall election in 2018.

She started the petition but was unaware there are no legal parameters in which a judge can be recalled in the state of Utah.

She didn’t realize at the time her request would more than likely never happen, but what has transpired because of her petition, has taken an unexpected twist and as support for the petition grew, Hoffman said they gathered momentum and also media attention.

“Not wanting to lose any of the momentum we have built bringing awareness to this I’ve reached out to some contacts to try to draft a bill introducing mandatory minimal sentencing of no less than 5 years,” said Hoffman. “The petition blew up and people have been emailing me talking about their own experiences with the justice system. It’s brought a massive awareness to an unfortunately common occurrence within the state of Utah in the typical sentencing these offenders receive.”

Hoffman said she has turned her attention to getting a bill drafted that addresses these crimes as well as extending the statute of limitations on reporting sex crimes, giving survivors the time they need to heal before they can effectively stand up to their abusers in court.

Hoffman didn’t expect the petition to reach the level it did, with over 25,000 signatures.

“Its been nothing short of incredible to be part of the 25,000 who want to give the children in those files a voice and hope that there are people out there fighting for them,” said Hoffman. “It takes years for victims to recover and longer when the justice system re-victimizes them.”

Some petitions reach lawmakers who support the cause and often work with organizers on creating new bills for legislature, which is what Hoffman is hoping for with her case.

According to the New York Times, petitions are important for multiple reasons, such as mobilizing supporters and reinforcing views and the effectiveness of a petition depends on how many individuals sign it and if any of them who do are in a position to make changes.

Once and a while, the subject of the petition might even solve the issue on their own. After a petition was started against Ruth’s Chris Steak House for accepting a $20 million loan mean for small businesses from the government’s $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program, they decided to return the funds, allowing for more small businesses to get the help they need.

Hoffman said even though she won’t reach her intended goal, the power that social media brings to awareness of the issues is overwhelming.

Utah Sentencing Commission defends Judge Douglas Hogan

Marshall Thompson, Director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, spoke with ABC4’s Brittany Johnson about the case. On Tuesday, Thompson told Johnson that the judge “did everything right.”

“I understand people’s concern over this. It’s a very important issue. But their anger is misdirected at the judge in this case.”

Thompson said the judge sentenced Saltsman according to the sentencing guidelines used by the Utah courts, and also handed down a sentence that the prosecution and defense both agreed on.

The Utah State Bar sent ABC4 News a statement that reads in part:

“Utah sentencing guidelines for a second-degree felony against a person for a first-time offender are from 0-210 days in jail and up to 48 months probation. Judge Hogan’s sentence for Saltsman fell within the recommended sentence based upon guidelines established by Utah’s Sentencing Commission.”

The sentencing guidelines are voluntary and can be overruled by a judge, according to Thompson.

“When a judge sees a first time offender with a low-risk score, and three charges, and both the prosecution and defense are stipulating to probation, you really can’t blame the judge when he orders probation,” said Thompson.

“If somebody has an issue with the results in this case, I would suggest that they send their feedback into the sentencing commission directly and we can look at the guidelines and see if there’s a way we can create more nuance in them.”

“Instead of putting a band-aid over introducing a small sub change to the laws that we have, we want to create new ones, Because clearly the laws that we have are not working,” said Hoffman.

Entire statement from Utah State Bar on Douglas Sentencing

The recent sentencing of Douglas Eugene Saltsman by Judge Douglas Hogan has drawn criticism from some quarters. Saltsman pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a Second Degree felony.

Utah sentencing guidelines for a second degree felony against a person for a first-time offender are from 0-210 days in jail and up to 48 months probation. Judge Hogan’s sentence for Saltsman fell within the recommended sentence based upon guidelines established by Utah’s Sentencing Commission.

The Utah Sentencing Commission consists of 27 members representing all facets of the criminal justice system and an at-large citizen representative. They are all citizens, and include defense and prosecuting attorneys, judges, legislators, police officers and treatment professionals. The Commission establishes sentencing guidelines for specific crimes focusing on the severity of the crime, restitution to victims of crime and their families, managing risk to society and reducing risk by helping offenders develop skills needed to become productive members of society as far as may be possible. The judge also receives a detailed pre-sentence report prepared by Adult Probation and Parole and considers their recommendations in sentencing, as well as recommendations from prosecutors and victims.

An independent judiciary is established by both the federal and the Utah State Constitutions and is to be as free from the politics of the other branches of government as possible. That independence is critical to ensure the best opportunity for justice to be achieved for all parties. Utah’s non-partisan retention process helps ensure judicial independence and is essential to protecting one of the country’s most respected judiciaries.

“Utah’s judiciary is widely recognized as one of the finest in the country,” said Utah State Bar President Herm Olsen. “It is guided by rules created with a significant amount of input from the public. It is designed to be fair and just for all.”

Editor’s Note: A previous report stated Saltsman was convicted of possessing over 13,000 images of child porn. According to the probable cause statement, 13,000 images were submitted to law enforcement during the investigation. Saltsman was formally charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, and he eventually pleaded guilty to three counts.

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