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Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
Gov. Gary Herbert, right, introduces John Pearce, left, his nominee fill a vacancy on the Utah Supreme Court, during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, in Salt Lake City. Pearce currently serves as a judge on the Utah Court of Appeals. He will replace Justice Jill Parrish, who left the state Supreme Court after she became a federal judge in Utah in August.

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert nominated someone he knows well to fill a vacancy on the Utah Supreme Court.

John A. Pearce worked as general counsel to the governor for four years before Herbert appointed him to the Utah Court of Appeals in October 2013. He now awaits Senate confirmation to the state's highest court.

Pearce, 46, said he's humbled by the opportunity and the faith Herbert has shown in him.

"I would love it if at the end of my tenure people said, 'He worked hard on every case. He thought about it, he understood the arguments that were in front of him, he explained them thoroughly and intelligently, and he got it right,'" Pearce said.

Herbert described Pearce as a hardworking legal scholar who is "whip smart."

"I think he's going to be a great addition, a very complementary addition to those who are already there," he said.

Pearce would be Herbert's third appointee to the five-member state Supreme Court, the others being Justice Dino Himonas and Justice Tom Lee. Pearce would replace Jill Parrish, who was recently appointed as a federal judge.

In all, Herbert has appointed 58 judges, more than half the state bench.

Chief Justice Matthew Durrant said Utah's nomination process is designed to remove politics from the decision, saying it's nonpartisan and merit-based.

Pearce attested to that, calling it a grueling process in which the state pulled his credit report and sent questionnaires to attorney who argued before him.

"Pretty soon you start feeling pretty exposed and pretty vulnerable to the process," he said.

Durrant called Pearce a thoughtful, careful and intellectually powerful judge. As an appellate judge, Pearce has already filled in on several cases when the Supreme Court was down a judge.

Pearce credited his sixth-grade teacher for sparking his interest in the law by requiring his class to participate in a mock trial.

A native of Magna, Pearce graduated from Cyprus High School and got a degree in economics from the University of Utah. He earned his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley.

"Even though it's a short drive from Magna … to downtown Salt Lake, it feels like a pretty long journey from Cyprus High School to the steps of the Supreme Court," he said.

Pearce is an adjunct professor at the U.'s S.J. Quinney College of Law and was a shareholder at Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough from 1999 to 2009. He and his wife, Jennifer Napier-Pearce, are the parents of two sons.

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