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Utah judge suspended for criticizing Trump

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Judge Michael Kwan talks with a defendant in Taylorsville, Utah, in 2010. -
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Jeffrey D. Allred Deseret News via AP
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A Utah judge has been suspended for six months without pay after he made a series of critical statements about President Donald Trump online and in his courtroom over the past few years

The Utah Supreme Court filed its court ruling this past week on Judge Michael Kwan's actions

Kwan, who has served as a justice court judge in Taylorsville for 20 years, was cited for "improper use of judicial authority and his inappropriate political commentary," the latter often involving President Trump.

The court noted multiple times when Kwan had provided political comments that criticized Trump, as a presidential candidate in 2016 and as president on his Facebook page and in court.

Three days after the 2016 election, Kwan wrote on Facebook, "Think I'll go to the shelter to adopt a cat before the President-Elect grabs them all" — a reference to the "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump was heard bragging about grabbing women's genitals without consent.

Almost a month after Trump's inauguration, Kwan said "welcome to the beginning of the fascist takeover" and questioned whether Congressional Republicans would be "the American Reichstag," this time referring to the political body of Nazi Germany.

Judge Kwan defended his online commentary by stating that he had a First Amendment right to share his views about elected officials' political and social stances, calling it "constitutionally protected speech" and describing his statements as "social commentary or humor."

In response, the ruling written by Utah Supreme Court Justice John Pearce dryly noted, "It is an immutable and universal rule that judges are not as funny as they think they are. If someone laughs at a judge's joke, there is a decent chance that the laughter was dictated by the courtroom's power dynamic and not by a genuine belief that the joke was funny."

The court ruling also noted a moment in court that demonstrated the judge's political leanings and views of the president.

When a defendant said he was praying to get a large tax return in 2017 to pay off his fines and avoid going to jail, Kwan appeared to tell the man he shouldn't hold his breath because of President Trump.

"Prayer might be the answer," the judge said, "'cause he just signed an order to start building the wall and he has no money to do that, and so if you think you are going to get taxes back this year, uh, yeah, maybe, maybe not. But don't worry, there is a tax cut for the wealthy, so if you make over $500,000 you're getting a tax cut."

The inquiry also noted a pattern of behavior by Kwan, including a lewd statement about President Bill Clinton's sexual history and for his involvement with a politically biased nonprofit.

Though Kwan continued to defend his use of speech, and said that his Facebook profile remained largely private, Judge Pearce and the Utah Supreme Court said the judicial office requires sacrifice.

"Fulfillment of judicial duties does not come without personal sacrifice of some opportunities and privileges available to the public at large," Pearce wrote. "And as a person the public entrusts to decide issues with the utmost fairness, independence, and impartiality, a judge must at times set aside the power of his or her voice."