Utah's Chief Justice Gordon R. Hall of the Supreme Court was elected Thursday as the president of the Conference of Chief Justices - composed of all the highest judges and justices in the United States.
It is the first time a Utahn has held the post.Commending Hall's achievement, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said, "Chief Justice Hall's election is a personal tribute to him and the state of Utah. I know Justice Hall well and look forward to working with him during the next year."
Hall was elected during the annual meeting of CCJ being held in Rockport, Maine.
Members of Utah's judiciary responded enthusiastically to Hall's election. Third District Judge Timothy R. Hanson describes Hall as an "extraordinary jurist and administrative leader."
Speaking on behalf of the Utah Judicial Council, Hanson said the chief justice is "a man of unique talents and unlimited patience, always a gentleman. This recognition is richly deserved."
In a Deseret News interview, Hall said his post offers recognition to the state and an opportunity to share "some of the court-related areas in which (the state) excels."
By becoming president of CCJ, Hall also becomes chairman of the board of directors of the National Center for the State Courts. This non-profit organization promotes the modernization of state courts.
A topic of concern to judges and justices throughout the nation is the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the justice system. A judge in one state recently allowed his court bailiff to wear surgical gloves and a mask as he officiated in a case involving a defendant who had AIDS.
"Certainly, judges should be careful and not permit this disease to be perpetuated, but we have an obligation to see defendants or plaintiffs with AIDS get their day in court. They need to be afforded a fair trial without prejudice," said Hall.
As president of CCJ, Hall will lead efforts to establish guidelines for trial judges confronting the complex legal issue of AIDS in their courtrooms.
Another issue being studied by the highest justices in the country include alternative ways to resolve disputes outside the courtroom.
Utah is progressive in establishing administrative agencies that help parties compromise. In district court, for instance, a commissioner of domestic relations meets with couples who are divorcing to resolve areas of dispute.
American justices are bothered by "unjust" and negative criticism by the media, said Hall.
In Utah, the judiciary has established open communication with the media by hosting a series of informal dinners and educational meetings between judges and journalists. Utah's example will be shared with justices throughout the country, he said.
Hall, 61, became chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court in July 1981.
He served as a 3rd District Court judge from 1969 to 1977. Before his appointment to the bench, he served as the Tooele County attorney for three terms; city attorney in Grantsville, Wendover and Stockton; attorney for the Tooele Army Depot; and a private law practitioner for 17 years. He received his law degree in 1951 from the University of Utah.
Last year, Hall was named Outstanding Appellate Judge of the Year by members of the Utah State Bar.