Last spring, while attending Salt Lake City Justice Court, I witnessed an unusual sight: a judge acting in a manner that suggested she might be under the influence while issuing rulings on DUIs from the bench.
I bring this up now because, this afternoon, The Salt Lake Tribune ran a story that Salt Lake City Justice Court Judge Virginia Ward was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Saturday "on suspicion of possession of synthetic narcotics," according to reporter Jessica Miller.
Miller writes that, according to a booking statement, Ward was alleged to have received 338 Oxycodone tablets through the U.S Postal Service that she was then to pass on to a distributor.
Ward has been placed on administrative leave by Chief Justice Matthew Durrant.
When I sat in court, according to my notes and memory, Ward slurred her words repeatedly. She closed her eyes on numerous occasions. Long silences were followed by rambling statements.
Among her staff and attorneys there was a mix of sheepish grins, embarrassment and, in some cases, disbelief written on individuals' faces, particularly when Ward's eyes appeared to almost roll to the back of her head.
She went on several curious diatribes, expressing her feelings about pies and people's names, struggling at times to identify individuals. "I know David Paul White and you are not David Paul White," she said to one confused attorney.
Later, she launched into another rant. "I'm friends with Shelley, I love Shelley, Shelley doesn't like cheese or chocolate. Those two things alone should tell you she is a person of low moral character," she added, apparently joking.
I left after a prolonged discussion of the office movements of various attorneys and their professional histories was delivered in what seemed to be a clearer voice.
Afterward, I contacted the courts for a comment from Ward. As I recall, the Utah Courts spokesperson relayed back from the judge that she had had a minor accident, had been on painkillers, and was willing to talk to me regarding the unfortunate events of the day.
At this point, I made the decision—rightly or wrongly—to not proceed with the story, since I had nothing to show that there was any kind of a pattern that might indicate a larger problem than someone had by accident overmedicated a sprain.
I'll be watching with some interest how Ward's case wends its way through the system.