While Utah's court system has made tremendous progress in 1988, a crisis in recruiting qualified judges threatens to erode the quality of justice in our state, Chief Justice Gordon R. Hall told lawmakers Monday.
Surrounded by his colleagues of the Utah Supreme Court, Hall asked legislators to consider these sobering facts: Recent nominating commissions have been forced to reduce their standards to include applicants for vacancies on the bench to only two to four years experience. In the past, qualified applicants had between 10 to 15 years experience."The operation of Utah's courts and, ultimately, the quality of justice is dependent on the competence, experience, vigor and integrity of its jurists. The evidence is conclusive that we are facing a crisis in the recruitment and retention of qualified jurists," said Hall.
There is no question that in the past three years there has been a substantial downturn in the quality, and more importantly, in the quantity of applicants.
"With the knowledge that the average judicial appointee will serve 25 years, the appointment of individuals with less than the best legal minds, less than the highest integrity, less than the broadest experience and less than the strongest work ethic threatens to destroy the judiciary from within," warned Hall.
"It erodes the quality of justice for generations to come."
Hall "urgently asked" for support of lawmakers of salary increases recommended by the Executive and Judicial Compensation Commission. That commission endorsed a proposal to increase Supreme Court Justice salaries from $64,000 to $80,000 and the other judges accordingly.
Pointing to some of the accomplishments of the judiciary during 1988, Hall said that the transition of the district court system from the county to the state has been accomplished for $236,700 less than the projected fiscal amount. Of equal importance is the fact that the number of local administrators in the trial courts has been reduced by six, less than estimated.
The Utah Court of Appeals is ahead of its projected goals. Hall predicted that appellate delay would be eliminated by December 1990.
Hall asked for support of an amendment to the statutory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court that will be presented to lawmakers this session which would provide more flexibility to pore over first degree felony cases from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeals.
An important piece of legislation endorsed by the judiciary would improve the quality and performance of Utah's Justices of the Peace, said Hall.
"SB10 proposes significant improvements in selecting lay judges, setting education standards and reviewing the need for a new justice court before its establishment.
"The bill comes to you with full support of the judiciary and the broad support in the larger justice system," said Hall.
Serving as the President of the Conference of Chief Justices this past year, Hall said he has traveled the country and compared Utah's court system with others throughout the nation.
"While much needs to be done, it is satisfying to know that we are ahead of most of our sisters states."