Richard C. Howe, a former legislative leader turned jurist, was described as a "perfect gentleman and a real old-time Democrat" when he was sworn in Monday as chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court.

"This is overwhelming. I didn't know I had so many friends," the 74-year-old judge said of the standing room crowd of about 200 who attended the noon-hour ceremony in the high court's chambers in the new Scott M. Matheson Courthouse.Justice Christine M. Durham was also sworn in as associate chief justice and applied the oath to Howe.

Howe was praised by former law clerks and a top LDS church official as an unassuming gentleman who is fair and exercises sound judgment.

"He is one of the last gentlemen of the bar," said Victoria Romney, a former law clerk who spoke on behalf of Howe's clerks. "One clerk called him the perfect gentleman and a real old-time Democrat . . . what the Democratic Party should be."

Howe, a former Speaker of the House, served as a representative and senator in the Utah Legislature for 18 years. He was appointed a justice to the state's high court in 1980.

"Given our humble beginnings, it's amazing either of us amounted to anything," said James E. Faust, a member of the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Faust and Howe have known each other since they were teen-agers, working on a county road crew and attending law school together.

Faust said he knew Howe's "heart and soul" and called him "eminently qualified" to head the state's judicial branch of gov-ern-ment.

As chief justice, Howe also will be chairman of the state's Judicial Council, the policy making body for the judiciary. He succeeds Justice Michael D. Zimmerman, whose term as chief justice expired April 1. He will remain on the court.

"I guess it is fashionable to say I will lead this court into the 21st century or be chief justice when the 2002 Olympic are here," Howe quipped.

But unlike politicians, Howe said he couldn't promise anything more than to be fair, work hard, listen, study and think.

Howe was born in Salt Lake County, where his parents were educators and his father, Edward E. Howe, was a county commissioner.

The justice graduated from the University of Utah Law School in 1948 and was a clerk to the state Chief Justice James H. Wolfe and a city judge in Murray before going into private practice.

In addition to his terms in the state Legislature, Howe also served on the Utah Constitutional Revision Commission for 10 years.