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Embrace politics, avoid the nastiness, judge says

Published: Saturday, Nov. 6 2010 7:00 a.m. MDT

PROVO, Utah — Mormons should avoid getting caught up in the nastiness that permeates politics today, a federal appeals judge told students at Brigham Young University Thursday.

Judge Thomas B. Griffith said members of the LDS Church have a style all their own in many aspects of life. "I wish we had a style of our own in politics as well," he said.

Politics now are "crass, disingenuous and lack civility" and "Latter-day Saints participate in that along with everyone else," he said. "My advice to you is don't do that."

Griffith, a former BYU attorney who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, spoke at the Kennedy Center for International Studies. He devoted much of his hour-long speech to his circuitous route to becoming a federal judge and offered some career tips for students. He declined to talk about any current hot-button legal issues.

"Here's the most important advice I could give you based on my career: Be nice to people. I really mean that."

A conservative Republican, Griffith, 56, worked as the chief legal officer of the U.S. Senate, a nonpartisan position in which he advised both Republicans and Democrats. During his term he found himself in the thick of the Clinton impeachment proceedings.

"No exaggeration here, I could not wait to get up and go to work in the morning," he said.

Griffith said the experience directly led to him becoming a judge because he made friends on both sides of the aisle.

And though he initially went to Washington years before wanting a job in a GOP administration, he said he has set his own politics aside.

"At the time I was a Republican. I am not a Republican (now). I don't register. I don't vote in primaries. I'm a judge. I have no political views anymore," Griffith said.

Still, he told students who want get involved in politics they have to pick a side and be loyal to it. He said that during the judicial vetting process, no one ever asked him for whom he voted.

"It's kind of like embracing a porcupine. So what? Neither one is perfect," he said. "If you want to ticket split, you will rule out serving in some significant ways."

Griffith graduated from BYU with a humanities degree and earned his law degree from the University of Virginia. He said he didn't really like law school and would have been a minister had he not joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But, he said, he loves his job on the bench.

Asked his thoughts on retention elections for judges, Griffith said he's glad they are not part of the federal system.

"There really is a beauty in not having to worry about that," he said. "It would be hard to be independent and truly apply the law as written if you have to face a Senate committee or retention election. I like the federal system that allows for a great deal of scrutiny up front and then a lifetime appointment."

e-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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