Roger Livingston was hoping to get the monkey off his back Thursday, to once and for all end the rumors that have haunted him. But state senators, who by a 4-2 vote recommended him for a 5th Circuit judgeship, warned he'll face his past for years to come.
Now the nomination goes to the full Senate for an April 20 vote. It's expected Livingston will be confirmed and appointed to the bench.Livingston, a deputy Salt Lake County attorney, told the six-member Senate Confirmation Committee during a 71/2-hour hearing that he did indeed have conversations in 1980 about having his car stolen and destroyed so he could get out of making onerous lease payments. But the idea, which would have been a felony if carried out, did not proceed further. The case was investigated by the county attorney's office and, the Deseret News has learned, by the Salt Lake County Grand Jury, but no charges were ever filed against Livingston.
"I'm not proud of what I talked about," he told the panel, his voice choking with emotion. "It was stupid and ill advised of me to enter into such conversations. I can't tell you the sorrow, humiliation and hurt this has caused my family."
Livingston, whose nomination was made by Gov. Norm Bangerter over the objections of the Senate's eight Democratic members, said he entered the conversations desperate over finances. "But I didn't defraud anyone. I'm proud I did the right thing. I turned the car in (to the owners) and everyone was made whole. I did not, would not and could not cheat anyone out of a penny," Livingston said.
Numerous officials and citizens spoke in Livingston's favor.
Utah State Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen, who was chief of the county attorney's justice division in 1980, said Livingston is an outstanding choice for a judge. "I never, ever, doubted his integrity and honesty. He has paid dearly for this act (talking about destroying his car). I chalk it up to loose talk, stupidity and immaturity. He has long since grown out of it. He deserves to get this monkey off his back and get on with his life and career."
But later in the hearing, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, chairman of the confirmation committee and an attorney himself, said the monkey won't be off Livingston's back, even if he is confirmed. "In three years, after you have a record on the bench, you will come up for a retention vote by the public, and these matters will likely be heard from again," he said.
Several people spoke against Livingston, and he was accused of other indiscretions from not returning telephone calls to having a public career marred by questionable behavior.
The question of a deal between Livingston, Attorney General David Wilkinson and former Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon was again raised by Laura Ferguson, former Salt Lake County GOP chairman. Ferguson repeated her previous claims that Livingston agreed to get out of the 1980 Republican race for attorney general and leave Wilkinson the only man challenging the Republican incumbent, if Cannon would hire Livingston into Wilkinson's county attorney job. But Livingston denied that charge, and both Wilkinson and Cannon have also denied it in the past.
That and other items raised against Livingston were put aside by the senators. The car incident worried them most. They went into a closed session, over objections from the media, to hear Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom detail his office's 1980 investigation into the incident. Yocom, a Democrat who supports Livingston's appointment, refused to discuss the investigation in public, even though a summary of the investigation was leaked to the press during Livingston's failed 1986 race for county attorney.
When the vote finally came, Sen. Darrell Renstrom, D-Ogden, also an attorney, said Livingston's admission that he did discuss committing a felony troubles him. "I resolve against you. If this were a federal (judgeship) nomination, (you) wouldn't have been nominated at all because of it," he said.
Renstrom and Senate Minority Leader Rex Black, D-Salt Lake, voted against the recommendation. The Republican senators on the panel and Sen. Paul Fordham, D-Salt Lake, voted in favor of Livingston.