Prominent trial lawyers who have worked in the courtroom with Utahn Harold G. Christensen believe he would make an excellent deputy U.S. attorney general - and maybe even a fine attorney general.
Attorney General Edwin Meese III has selected Christensen to be his deputy, and is waiting until a background check on Christensen is completed before he formally announces the nomination and sends it to the Senate.Christensen, 62, has not commented publicly on the matter. A statement released by his office says only that, "Mr. Christensen understands that he is being considered for the position of deputy attorney general, but believes it would not be appropriate to comment on the process until a decision has been reached and therefore is not granting media interviews."
But his Utah colleagues are willing to comment. Meese's choice won high praise from trial attorneys along the Wasatch Front who have either worked on cases with Christensen or gone against him in court. Several are past presidents of the Utah State Bar, as is Christensen.
Christensen is a senior partner in the firm Snow, Christensen and Martineau. A widower with three grown children, he lives in Holladay.
His colleagues praise Christensen's organization, integrity and formidable skill as a trial lawyer.
"His ability to reason is unusual," said attorney Eugene C. Hansen of the firm Hansen and Dewsnup. Hansen has often faced Christensen in court. He has also worked with him in the Utah State Bar, the American Inns of Court and on several committees.
"He has a superior ability to organize, execute plans, manage and delegate," Hansen said.
Other attorneys cited similar qualities - those Christensen will need if he hopes to bring serenity to the embattled Justice Department. The man Christensen would replace resigned recently over the Meese issue.
One colleague, Robert Campbell of Watkiss and Campbell, said, "I would go so far as to say that as far as being the chief legal enforcement officer in this country, Hal is eminently more qualified than Mr. Meese."
Campbell was alluding to the possibility that Meese might be forced to resign as attorney general over the improper conduct allegations. If that happens while Christensen is serving as deputy, Christensen could become acting attorney general.
Circumstances could very well make that temporary role necessary, some Salt Lake lawyers predicted. There would not be enough time left in the Reagan administration to go through the lengthy process of finding a new attorney general.
Salt Lake attorneys say if anyone can bring order out of confusion, Hal Christensen can.
Ray Christensen, senior partner in Christensen, Jensen and Powell, cited Christensen's organizational skills. Despite identical last names, the two men are not related.
"He has all the qualities of an outstanding trial lawyer: intelligence, a willingness to work hard, integrity, candor," Ray Christensen said. "I don't know anything about the Justice Department or what kind of mess they are in, but he will do as good a job as anyone possibly could."
He described Christensen's personality as "very pleasant and engaging. He is not a jokester or a clown, but he has an excellent sense of humor - which is another attribute of a good trial lawyer."
Trial lawyer David Kunz thinks Christensen's decades of courtroom experience will make him readily accepted as a leader by lawyers in the Justice Department.
"He is the senior partner in one of the largest and most respected offices in the state. His contribution to the prestige of that office is very great. He is highly respected by the courts, the judges and the attorneys all through the profession.
"He is a rather quiet man, but he has a firm personality. You know that you are dealing with a man who knows what he is doing and has the ability to have his decisions carried out," Kunz said.
Ed Clyde, senior partner in Clyde, Pratt & Snow, cited several other qualities Christensen has that would serve the Justice Department well.
The deputy attorney general must have legal experience that commands respect, he said. Christensen has it.
"He has to work well with people. Hal does that in spades. He has to be objective. That job is not the kind you can do by the seat of your pants or from emotion. You need to have an objective mind. Hal is objective by nature. You need to be bright. You can't teach brightness. Hal is bright. And highest on the list: in order to move and shake anything, you have to have a good reputation for honesty. If you have that, you can open doors. If you don't have it, you just can't accomplish things. Hal is honest."
The Justice Department must have someone as a deputy who already has the skills needed, Clyde said. With only seven months left in the Reagan administration, the deputy won't have time to learn on the job.
Christensen would need little time to get his feet wet, Clyde said.
His moderate political views may garner bipartisan support in the Senate.
"His views should engender bipartisan support from leading members of the bar who have influence in democratic circles," Campbell said.
"Christensen is moderate in most things he does, including his political beliefs. I do not think he is known for or has advocated shrill or rigid positions over the years," he said.