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August Miller, Deseret News
Chief Justice Christine M. Durham of the Utah Supreme Court gives the state of the judiciary speech during the first day of the 2009 session of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26, 2009.

Some 38 men and two women have donned the robes of Utah Supreme Court justices since Utah was granted statehood in 1896.

And while the justices often maintain a low profile, over the years Utah's "court of last resort" has been at the center of several of the state's high profile cases.

In its earliest days, the court helped project the will of the federal government on a rebellious Utah population, especially polygamists flouting federal and state law.

The modern court concerns itself with appeals, clarifying state law and adopting rules of civil and criminal procedure for use in the state courts, as well as the conduct and discipline of lawyers.

But in those instances when the court has found itself in the public eye, Deseret News photographers have been present, albeit seldom in the actual courtroom. Photo researcher Ron Fox has culled the newspaper archives and located many of these photos.

The first Utah State Supreme Court came into existence with the birth of the state. Before that time, the Territorial Supreme Court was made up of three judges appointed to four-year terms by the president of the United States. One of the most dynamic of those early justices was Charles Shuster Zane.

Early in is legal career, Zane had applied to practice law at Abraham Lincoln's firm in Illinois, but he was turned down. He replaced Lincoln as William H. Herndon's law partner when Lincoln was elected president. In 1884, he was appointed chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court.

In Utah, he was assigned to the 3rd Judicial District as well as the Supreme Court, where he prosecuted polygamists rigorously but offered leniency to the few convicted polygamists who pled guilty and renounced the practice.

When The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the 1890 Manifesto renouncing polygamy, Zane accepted the statement in good faith and reconciled with local authorities. As a result, he was one of the first three justices elected to the Utah State Supreme Court, established in 1886, and served for three years.

In 1915, the then-five-member court became involved in one of the most controversial cases in Utah history when labor activist and singer Joe Hill was convicted and executed for the murder of a father and son killed in an attempted robbery.

The case against Hill was circumstantial, and his activities in the International Workers of the World as a union organizer made Hill a cause celèbre, with President Woodrow Wilson and blind-and-deaf author Helen Keller among those asking for clemency from the state.

Hill unsuccessfully appealed his case to the Utah Supreme Court, with Orrin N. Hilton, the lawyer representing Hill during the appeal, declaring: "The main thing the state had on Hill was that he was an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty."

Years later, the court would play a role in the high profile case of Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who, on consecutive nights in July of 1976, shot and killed a gas station attendant, thena motel clerk in Provo.

Gilmore made news when he demanded the death penalty. In November, he rejected a delay granted by the Utah State Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually granted Gilmore numerous postponements until on Jan. 17, 1977, he became the first person executed in the United States after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a new series of death penalty statutes.

In 1982, the court made history of another type when Gov. Scott M. Matheson appointed Christine M. Durham to the Supreme Court, making her Utah's first female justice. In 2002, Durham became the first woman chief justice of the court. Deseret News staff writer Angie Welling wrote this about Durham taking the oath of office:

"Though steady while repeating the oath, Durham's hand soon belied the calm demeanor and relayed her true emotions.

" 'That's got to be my shakiest judicial signature ever,' she joked, showing people the signed oath of office."

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com