If a judge must choose between a free press and a fair trial, the rights of a defendant must take precedence, a federal judge told jurists Thursday.
Speaking to the Utah Judicial Conference's annual meeting in Ogden, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins asked jurists, "Do we want a press that is almost free? Do we want a trial which is almost fair? As a judge . . . if there is a genuine question, we have the obligation to stand on the side of fair trial."Also addressing the conference Thursday, Gov. Norm Bangerter congratulated the judiciary for its remarkable progress during the past four years.
Jenkins recently presided over the much-publicized federal trial of members of the Singer-Swapp clan, convicted on bombing and firearm charges.
Judges should take the U.S. Constitution seriously when considering the rights of reporters as well as the rights of an individual accused of a crime to an impartial jury, he said.
"It is not a question of censorship, but of timing. That which is sealed can be unsealed at an appropriate time after the threat to a fair trial has passed," he said.
Fairness can be often be achieved by delaying a trial. "You may have to change the time - let things calm down - allow people to think again, if such waiting could be compatible with the constitutional right to a speedy trial," he said.
Jenkins cautioned news reporters to take their privileges seriously. "It is absolutely imperative that newsmen report fairly, honestly and evenhandedly. The public never knows when they don't do so."
Bangerter, looking back at the problems four years ago that threatened the credibility of courts, praised jurists. Four years ago, Utah's court system was in jeopardy. "Utah now has one of the hardest working, most progressive and efficient court systems in the nation," he said.
He applauded the courts for taking on "complex, controversial and sometimes unpopular" issues such as gender bias in the courts and the new child support guidelines.
"What is important is that the courts have shown the ability to take on tough issues, not because there is something to gain, but because it is right to raise the issues," he said.
The governor said that the modernization of the courts is demonstrated through the following marks of progress:
-The Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are nearly one year ahead of schedule in eliminating appellate delay.
-In Salt Lake County, citizens can receive a trial date within 90 days of filing a certificate of readiness for trial (compared to more than a year's time in other states).
-More uniform and understandable court boundaries have been established.
-The thorny but important process of judicial performance will begin this spring.
-Technological programs and a facility master plan are well under way.
Bangerter, who has appointed 36 judges during his term, said he supported recent legislation to increase the judges' salary. The salary issue, however, remains a challenge, he said.
"I recognize that judicial compensation sometimes impede our ability to attract lawyers from private practice to this unique public service. I have been pleased, however, with the caliber of the nominees I have interviewed during the past four years."
The judicial revolution of the past four years has been historic, said Bangerter. "You have opened the future to all of us."