In 1986, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon Hall, having heard about gender and justice studies under way in New York and New Jersey, asked the Utah Judicial Council to form a similar task force.
Aileen Clyde was named chairwoman and Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Zimmerman vice chairman.The 19 committee members held public and private hearings throughout the state as well as commissioned a survey, by the University of Utah, of 2,000 Utah lawyers.
While they saw little intent to be unfair, Clyde said, task force members found that perceptions about gender do, in fact, interfere with the administration of justice in Utah.
In "The Report of the Utah Task Force on Gender and Justice," the panel addressed these five topics:
- Domestic relations - Bias in family law means only 5 percent of Utah men get custody of their children, and women bear the economic hardship of divorce. Utah women are less likely to have the resources to hire a lawyer and more likely than men to see a decline in their standard of living after a divorce.
- Domestic violence - On a local level, confusion about Utah's Domestic Violence Act is pervasive, the task force found. Domestic violence is a serious and widespread problem in Utah, but in many jurisdictions it is regarded as less serious than similar violence between strangers.
- Judicial selection - At the time of the report, Gov. Norm Bangerter had appointed three women as judges out of 17 opportunities to do so. The state judiciary was 93 percent male.
- Court employment - Three-quarters of court employees are female, yet the majority of the top-paying administrative posts are held by men.
- Courtroom interaction - Women lawyers report that they and female litigants are interrupted more frequently by judges. Male lawyers didn't notice that at all but did think judges are unfairly courteous to women in the courtroom.