Former Utah Supreme Court Justice D. Frank Wilkins, who had a rich and distinguished legal career, was once described in published reports by former Gov. Calvin Rampton as "a thoughtful judge."
"He did not have a particular prejudice or bias that would take him in a conservative or liberal direction," said Rampton, who appointed him to the state's highest court in 1976. "He simply applied the law as he saw it and as how he thought the Legislature interpreted it."
It's a high compliment for a jurist who went on to write the majority opinion upholding the death sentence of Pierre Selby, one of the Hi-Fi murderers who eventually was executed in 1987 for killing three people during a robbery at an Ogden music store. He also was among a majority of justices who upheld the death penalty for co-defendant William Andrews, who eventually was executed for his part in the high-profile slayings in 1992. Wilkins resigned from the high court in 1980, returning to private practice.
Wilkins, who died Monday at age 81, was practicing law with Berman and Savage at the time of his death.
Born in Tooele, Wilkins was the model for the "typical" American boy for the patriotic monument at the City-County Building. A graduate of West High School, where he was elected student body president, Wilkins earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah and graduated from the George Washington University Law School.
After graduation from law school, Wilkins was a Salt Lake County Deputy County Attorney and then started a private law practice with friends Sidney G. Baucom and Donald B. Holbrook. In 1967, Rampton appointed Wilkins as a 3rd District Court Judge, where he served until 1974. In 1976 he was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court. He resigned from that position in 1980.
Upon resuming a private legal practice, he and now-Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom defended avowed racist Joseph Paul Franklin. Franklin was convicted of shooting two black men to death in 1980 while they were jogging with two white women near Liberty Park.
Wilkins also was state chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, served on the Utah Public Service Commission and was a commissioner for the Utah State Bar, which recently named him Distinguished Lawyer of the Year.
Friends and colleagues often remark on Wilkins' wit, intellect and sense of justice. He had a particular penchant for quoting Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
Funeral services for Justice Wilkins will be conducted today. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie Wilkins, three children and one stepson.