Nebraska Sheriff's office booking photo shows Thompson in 2005
Cheyenne County Sheriff's Office  /  Reuters file
Richard W. Thompson charged with sexual assault on Oct. 27, is seen here in booking photos from the Cheyenne County, Neb., Sheriff's Office.
updated 5/31/2006 10:15:19 PM ET 2006-06-01T02:15:19

A petition drive is calling for the resignation of the judge who sentenced a sex offender to probation instead of prison in part because of his short stature.

The campaign is aimed at Cheyenne County District Judge Kristine Cecava, who last week sentenced Richard W. Thompson to 10 years intensive probation instead of prison on two felony child sexual assault charges. Cecava said at the sentencing hearing that she did not believe the 5-foot, 1-inch Thompson could survive in prison.

Thompson, 50, could have been faced 10 years behind bars.

The petition drive is being conducted by Tiffany Jones, a resident of the county seat of Sidney, who said she already had about 200 signatures.

Cecava did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Attorney General Jon Bruning plans to appeal the sentence, arguing that it is too lenient.

According to a transcript of the sentencing hearing, Cecava told Thompson:

“So I’m sitting here thinking this guy has earned his way to prison but then I look at you and I look at your physical size. I look at your basic ability to cope with people and, quite frankly, I shake to think what might happen to you in prison because I don’t think you’ll do well in prison.”

A friend and colleague of the judge, Bernie Glaser of Lincoln, said Cecava’s ruling has been misunderstood. He said the prosecutor didn’t ask for prison time, and the judge took other factors into account when deciding that prison wasn’t right for Thompson including his mental capabilities and information contained in a pre-sentence report that is not public.

“We need more judges like her,” Glaser said. “I think they should be proud they have a judge like her.”

Probation includes monitoring
As part of his probation, Thompson will be electronically monitored for the first four months and was told never to be alone with anyone under age 18 or date or live with a woman whose children were under 18.

Thompson was accused of having sexual contact with a girl who is now 14.

“I truly hope that my bet on you being OK out in society isn’t misplaced,” Cecava said at the sentencing hearing. “It’s very hard to keep you in society when I know the risk is another child getting hurt.”

District judges in Nebraska are appointed but face retention elections that determine if they will remain in office. Cecava’s next retention vote is in 2008. In the 2002 election, 74 percent of the voters said she should remain on the bench.

In a judge evaluation survey filled out by attorneys in 2004, Cecava received above average marks in every category except in promptness of completing her work, which was just below satisfactory. Of the attorneys who completed the survey, 74 percent said that she deserved to keep her position.

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