SALT LAKE CITY — A linebacker once flattened John Huber when he apparently decided to rest for a play during football practice at the University of Utah.
Then-coach Ron McBride stood over the fallen offensive lineman yelling, "Huber, be the hammer, not the nail." Huber now lives by that motto, being someone who acts instead of being acted upon, said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"Complacency leads to being a nail," Hatch said.
Colleagues and friends described Huber as anything but a nail as he took the oath of office Monday as the 37th U.S. attorney for Utah in a ceremony at the U.S. District Courthouse.
President Barack Obama nominated Huber for the job in February and the Senate confirmed him in June. Huber oversees all federal criminal and civil cases in the state with a staff of 85 in Salt Lake City and a branch office in St. George.
"I solemnly accept responsiblity to serve as a careful steward in executing and enforcing the laws of the United States in Utah, my home," Huber said. "My intent is to serve diligently. My hope is to serve wisely, and my promise is to serve in such a way as to help all peoples with their varied perspectives to safely enjoy the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Huber's remarks struck a serious tone, but Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and others shared stories that poked fun at him while revealing glimpses of his character.
Some of Huber's classmates at Cyprus High School in Magna remember him reaching out to kids on the fringe and protecting others from bullies, Lee said. One friend, he said, described Huber as "a jock with the soul of a geek."
Lee said Huber, 47, understands the real world impact of his decisions and has the integrity to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.
"The power to prosecute is one of the greatest raw powers in our society," Lee said. "I'm more than confident that John's ability to use that power wisely and skilfully to uphold justice while remembering the one will prove itself out abundantly as he serves in this office."
Magistrate Judge Paul Warner, a former Utah U.S. attorney who first hired Huber, said the job requires judgment to know not only who and who not to prosecute but what crimes to charge or not charge.
Warner called Huber a natural leader and a great attorney who will take the office where it needs to go.
Huber, a former West Valley City prosecutor, started working with the U.S Attorney's Office in April 2002. He successfully prosecuted four people involved with firearms used in the 2007 Trolley Square shootings and environmental activist Tim DeChristopher.
Just before former assistant U.S. attorney Scott Romney started his opening argument in the DeChristopher case, Huber called him back to the desk and said, "There's splash." Confused, Romney said he asked him what he was talking about. Huber repeated, "There's splash," noting actress Daryl Hannah, who starred in the movie "Splash," sitting on the front row.
Romney, now working in the private sector, said Huber is even-keeled. He doesn't get too high or too low. Huber relies on honesty, fairness, family and faith to navigate the choppy waters of his profession, he said.
Huber keeps a Swiss flag is his office as a sign of his heritage and that colleagues can get a neutral, candid assessment of a problem.
"John won't take sides, but he will offer an honest view of what he thinks needs to be done," Hatch said.
Another former Utah U.S. attorney, Judge Dee Benson, said Huber wants to get the bad guy but he's also compassionate. He doesn't like profanity and has a "no swear" zone around his office and stays calm under pressure.
"We've got the coolest job in America going to the coolest guy in the room," he said.
"Everyone seems to like John. He's won a lot of cases, he also knows how to lose. He played football at the University of Utah," Benson said.
A Magna native, Huber lives with his wife, Lori, and two daughters across the street from the elementary school he attended. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the U. He served as president of the Magna East Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.