Despite the public criticism of Roger Livingston's appointment to the bench, the commission that submitted his name to the governor unabashedly stands behind its recommendation.
Utah Chief Justice Gordon R. Hall is a member of the 5th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission that submitted Livingston's name along with two others to Gov. Norm Bangerter for consideration. The three nominees were chosen from among 23 applicants."The commission felt strongly about all three candidates. Our job is to present the governor with the best qualified persons that we can and that's what was done in this instance," Hall told the Deseret News. Two other commission members James Jardine and Dale Zabriskie say they are aware of rumors that Livingston considered having his car stolen and destroyed to collect the insurance. However, after careful deliberation and thorough examination of his qualifications and background, they decided he was one of the three applicants best-qualified for the bench.
"The allegations against Livingston were investigated and no charges were brought. When we asked him about the allegations, Livingston denied any wrongdoing. I considered it a dead issue," said Zabriskie, a public-relations consultant.
Jardine said, "I believe we've been very careful to send good names to the governor."
Senate Minority Leader Rex Black, D-Salt Lake, Wednesday demanded that a Utah Senate Committee thoroughly investigate Livingston to clear the air of suspicions that the damaging report against Livingston was whitewashed.
In 1986, Livingston was an unsuccessful GOP candidate
for county attorney. During that bitter race, a copy of an unofficial 1980 report was leaked to the press indicating that Livingston had considered having a leased luxury car stolen and destroyed so he wouldn't have to make the costly payments. It was confirmed, however, that the car was never stolen or destroyed.
The confidential report showed that the allegations were investigated by the Salt Lake County attorney's office in 1980 but no charges resulted.
Livingston joined the county attorney's office as an assistant to Ted L. Cannon, a Republican, during that year, after deciding to give up his campaign for the GOP nomination for attorney general. It was before Livingston joined the county attorney's office that the conversation Livingston had regarding the destruction of his car allegedly took place.
Livingston is a deputy county attorney under David Yocom.
Insinuating that the commission did not do its job because it relied on Livingston's own testimony of the incident, Black insists that Livingston's accusers testify before a Senate Confirmation Committee April 7.
Members of the Judicial Nominating Committee said they questioned Livingston about the report and were satisfied with his answers. They did not, however, invite witnesses to testify because the nominating commission procedure is not intended to be a trial procedure, they said.
A copy of the unofficial report on Livingston was not included in their inquiry, but they were aware of the report from media coverage during the 1986 election, they said.
The commission is not offended by the upcoming Senate investigation of Livingston.
"I think the Senate is entitled to do any investigation it wishes. If they have questions, they should be answered. They should be as conscientious as possible, said Jardine.
"Whether they would have conducted further inquiry absent the press coverage on the Livingston report, I don't know . . . ."
Ron Gibson with the state court administrator's office said soliciting testimony from the public on individual candidates for the judge position is not the responsibility of the nominating commission. When the commission gives its three recommendations to the governor, then it is time for the public to provide additional information on the candidates. The public has another opportunity to oppose a nomination during a Senate hearing.
Zabriskie said he was impressed with a letter of recommendation on Livingston's behalf submitted to the commission by Yocom, the Democrat who won the 1986 county attorney election.
"Yocom's letter proved that the political difficulties in the office have passed. If there was any truth to the allegations against Livingston, Yocom had the perfect opportunity to confirm them.
"A judge needs to be beyond reproach. The commission felt comfortable recommending Livingston for that position of public trust"