When seven state senators meet Thursday to review the judicial nomination of Roger Livingston, they not only will be tackling a controversy but breaking new procedural ground, says the panel chairman.
"This will be the first time we've ever done this, and we hope to set a precedent for future nomination review," Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said Tuesday. "We want to hear from legal scholars on what they think our role should be."The 1988 Legislature created the Senate Confirmation Committee to screen the governor's nominations for judges and department heads, then make recommendations to the full Senate, which has power to reject or confirm the appointments.
The committee was established over the objections of Democrats, who complained it could be ensnared in partisan politics. But, it is the minority party, who are outnumbered 21-8 by Republican senators, who have adamantly opposed Livingston's appointment.
The Democrats, in a private caucus during the Legislature, voted to oppose Livingston when his name was first floated as a nominee and urged the governor to select one of two other candidates put forward by the Judicial Nominating Commission, an independent panel made up of judges, attorneys and private citizens.
The controversy surrounding Livingston, a former state legislator and chief deputy under former Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon, stems from allegations several years ago that he had discussed a plot to have his car stolen to get out of lease payments. The claims were investigated by the county attorney's office, but no charges were ever brought.
Hillyard said he plans to direct the committee, made up of four Republicans and three Democrats, in a thorough, fair and open airing of the matter.
"I intend to have an open meeting, but I do not intend to have a witch hunt," the senator said of the hearing set for Thursday in the State Capitol. "I hope to have some controls, but I think the integrity of the court is very important."
Among those testifying will be members of the nominating commission, Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom, other lawyers and witnesses and Livingston, himself, Hillyard said.
Portions of the hearing will probably be conducted behind closed doors because state law may prohibit the nominating commission from publicly discussing its deliberations, he said.
Hillyard also said he wants to delve into reports the 3rd District grand jury was asked to probe allegations against Livingston. Grand jury matters are secret by law.