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Clarence Thomas swears in Thomas R. Lee to Utah Supreme Court

Published: Monday, July 19 2010 10:03 p.m. MDT

Utah Supreme Court Justice Tom R. Lee, center, alongside his wife, Kimberly Lee, is confirmed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Francisco Kjolseth

SALT LAKE CITY — BYU law professor Thomas R. Lee was sworn in Monday as the Utah Supreme Court's newest justice.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, for whom Lee clerked in the mid-1990s, delivered the oath of office.

"I believe he is perfectly suited for this office," Thomas told a standing-room only crowd in the court's chambers. "Tom Lee's life has prepared him for this calling."

The hourlong ceremony, which Lee described as "one part eulogy and one part roast," was filled with laughter and praise for the 45-year-old Lee.

Joel Wakefield, who attended BYU and the University of Chicago Law School with Lee, said his friend was a humble man who never even mentioned his father happened to be the president of BYU while they were attending classes.

Wakefield said Lee had an "unflinching commitment to a deep understanding of the law" and would sacrifice greatly for class and study time.

While Lee has never served as a judge, Gregory D. Phillips, of the Salt Lake City firm Howard, Phillips and Anderson, said Lee would be one of Gov. Gary Herbert's "greatest legacies."

Lee has worked in both the courtroom and academia. As an appellate lawyer, he earned a national reputation arguing a number of high-profile cases. He specialized in copyright, trademark and intellectual property law.

Lee has represented automakers Porsche, Volkswagen and Ford. He also represented Utah in a challenge of the 2000 Census.

"He loves the law — with a capital L," said John E. Fee, who has worked with Lee at BYU's law school for the last decade. "He knows it's a system for serving people."

After his wife helped him slip on his black robe, Lee stepped behind the bench for the first time.

"This will be the last time — except for his funeral — when everyone agrees on his virtues and is completely uncritical of his work," said Utah Chief Justice Christine Durham.

Lee, who replaces retired Justice Michael J. Wilkins, said he did not know how he might alter the dynamic of the state's high court. He who was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last month and reaffirmed his commitment to avoiding judicial activism.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com

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