Reason. Persuasion. Testimony.

The Utah judiciary has tried all of these to convince the public that delay in the state courts is not a big problem.But public opinion is an obstinate juror.

Surrounded by national publicity exposing an overcrowded and sometimes corrupt justice system, Utahns remain skeptical of any good news.

But the Utah judiciary now has what may be the smoking gun - cold, hard facts.

For the first time, the courts have statistics gathered by the nation's center for courts comparing Utah with 34 other state courts. The verdict: Utah's state court system does not suffer from the delay that plagues other metropolitan areas. Utah ranked in the top 7 percent in delivering speedy justice.

Good news for Utahns to think about today, May 1 - Law Day 1991. Good news even for skeptics.

Weber, Davis and Utah counties proved fastest in processing civil cases with an average of 437 days from filing to final disposition. Not far behind, Salt Lake City landed seventh in lack of delay, averaging 658 days. At the bottom end, Boston won the disturbing distinction of having the longest delay - 2,154 days (nearly six years) before a case makes it through the system.

In moving felony criminal cases along, Weber, Davis and Utah counties averaged only two months from filing to completion and Salt Lake City's state court rec-ord is under three months.

These results starkly contrast with a recent poll, conducted for the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century, showing that 88 percent of Utahns think court delay is a real problem.

"The perception there is significant delay in Utah trial courts is a myth," said State Court Administrator Bill Vickrey. "But the courts haven't done a good job of dispelling that myth. There hasn't been adequate methods to research delay, so we have been lumped in the same category as other cities."

Conceding that Utah courts didsuffer from delay several years ago, Vickrey credits the improvement to more aggressive management of cases by judges.

"Judges used to take a passive role and allowed parties to move cases at their leisure. With individual calendaring, the judge dismisses cases if attorneys aren't willing to keep on schedule," he said.

The accelerated management has created controversy. Attorneys sometimes complain. But the justice commission that is charting the future of Utah courts recommends sticking to the standards, setting up measures to evaluate performance of judges and publishing results.

Even though Utahns can get a court date within three months, the problem of cost limits fair access to the justice system, says Rex Olsen, director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake. High cost of litigation closes the doors of justice to the middle class and as well the impoverished, he said.

Those who qualify for free legal help through the Legal Aid Society may wait six months before getting in to talk with an attorney - just to begin the court battle. While they wait, people are unable to get on with their lives. Once a couple has made the decision to separate, every day of waiting is disruptive. Children become "volleyballs" in unresolved custody battles. No one has been ordered to pay child support or alimony.

"You can't get divorced by your minister," Olsen said.

"It's the inability of most Utahns to afford an attorney and attorneys who juggle too many cases that creates delay - not the inefficiency of the courts," Olsen said.


GRAPHIC\ State district courts compared

Civil case processing times

Days from filing to completion

Weber/Davis/Utah counties: 437

Colorado Springs: 653

Salt Lake: 658

Denver: 667

Phoenix: 767

Portland: 770

National Average: 1038

Seattle: 1268

Sacramento: 1314

Oakland: 1419

Boston: 2154