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Coconino County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch

Coconino County Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Hatch (Greg McLean/Harmonized Media)

Judge Jacqueline Hatch issued a statement apologizing for comments she made to a victim of sexual abuse before sentencing an officer who groped the victim at a Flagstaff bar.

"As a Coconino County Superior Court judge, it is my responsibility to ensure that all victims and defendants are treated fairly and in a respectful manner in the courtroom," Hatch wrote in the statement. "It's a responsibility I take very seriously. I also believe victims should not be blamed for coming forward to report crimes."

Hatch was widely criticized for comments that many took as blaming the victim for being in the bar. The victim and others present in the courtroom Wednesday said the remarks were inappropriate and likely to discourage other victims from coming forward to report sexual crimes.

In an interview with the Daily Sun Thursday, the victim called for Hatch to apologize.

Before issuing her sentence, the judge said she hoped both the victim and the defendant learned a lesson from the case.

She said bad things can happen in bars and warned that women needed to be vigilant against becoming victims. "If you wouldn't have been there that night, none of this would have happened," Hatch said.

"When you blame others, you give up your power to change," Hatch later said her mother used to say.

The victim accepted Hatch's apology Friday.

"I genuinely appreciate Judge Hatch's apology," the victim said. "I sincerely hope moving forward, on a global level, there is a deeper understanding of how it feels to be a victim and what a difficult role it is to carry out. The initial comments made to me in the courtroom were unnecessary, and I appreciate her for acknowledging that."

The victim said she was thankful for the overwhelming public support that had surfaced for her since the sentencing.

"My heart is absolutely elated to know how many wonderful, empathetic people there are in our community," the victim said. "Thank you all, I am absolutely honored by the love and support behind me."

The story went viral Friday before Hatch apologized, with national news organizations reporting on the comments and bloggers harshly criticizing them. An online petition calling for the judge's resignation was approaching 10,000 signatures Friday.

The petition, which features signatures from people all over the country, stated Hatch should "step down before overseeing another sexual assault case."

The comments also prompted the Coconino County Attorney, local victim advocates and other officials to reiterate their support for victims who report crimes and placing the blame solely on the offender.

"I apologize to the victim for any additional anguish my comments may have caused," the judge wrote in her statement. "It was never my intention to make a situation worse for any victim. I have learned an important lesson and will apply what I have learned to future cases, to ensure that the rights and views of all victims are heard and respected."

She said her comments in court were "poorly communicated."

The judge did not respond to requests for interviews.

Eric Betz can be reached at 556-2250 or ebetz@azdailysun.com.

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