Trustworthy, fair, honest, scholarly, heart-felt, steady temperaments, well-versed writers.
Those who know the two newest gubernatorial-nominated justices to the Utah Supreme Court say they have those attributes in common. State senators will decide on the appointments after receiving public comment through Monday.
Those who know the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill N. Parrish and 3rd District Judge Ronald E. Nehring say they deserve to be where they are.
Mike Martinez, former chief of the criminal division for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office and also a former prosecutor for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said he is pleased that Leavitt chose attorneys current and former, with rich trial experience.
"Unless you've gone through this trial by fire, it's difficult to understand what happened at the trial court level . . . so that you're able to ascertain what happened at the trial court level, to have the experience of how a trial court works," he said.
"Nehring has an excellent reputation as a trial attorney . . . he's got a breadth of experience that I really think is going to be helpful," continued Martinez, now a lawyer in private practice. "And although I don't know anything about (Parrish), I do know the U.S. Attorney's Office hires only the best attorneys."
Parrish, 41, Bountiful, graduated from Yale Law School in 1985, has been an assistant U.S. attorney in Utah since 1995, and prior to that worked as a law partner at Parr, Waddoups, Brown, Gee and Loveless law firm in Salt Lake City from 1986 through 1995.
"She has what I consider one of the most important attributes of a good judge, and that's an excellent temperament," said U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball before whom Parrish has argued many cases. "She's honest, but she's not out there tooting her own horn, either."
Indeed, she didn't even want to admit claiming the title of being a former Weber County Dairy Queen for this interview.
"Oh no," she said when pressed about her former title. Then the honest nature her colleagues say she is known for kicked in. "OK, that's true. I cannot deny it. But do you have to put that in?"
Parrish first discovered an inkling of her future legal career during extracurricular debating classes in high school and college in Ogden.
"I was really involved in debate . . . I loved it and it seemed like a natural fit to go from debating to law school," she said. "I felt that my strengths were in being a good writer. I thought I had good analytical skills, good reasoning skills, so I felt that being a lawyer fit my strengths."
And after more than two decades of legal experience, she said her next obvious step is not just to argue the law but to interpret the law, "all the while, being bound by the law. It's not a judge's job to make the law."
"I think for me it would be a nice change of pace, or really a luxury, frankly, to hear a case and reach the right result rather than advocating a pre-assigned position for a client."
Gov. Mike Leavitt's second nominee for the high court, 3rd District Court Presiding Judge Ron Nehring, 55, of Salt Lake County, has offered inspiration to many of his co-workers and friends in an unexpected way his recent battle with head-and-neck cancer.
"Judge Nehring has many fans. He is an amazing guy . . . just his approach to cancer has been an inspiration," said Jan Thompson, communications director for Administrative Office of the Courts. "People were just thrilled with the fact he was chosen."
Nehring, who is on medical leave but still visits the courthouse to do his duties two to three days a week, said his doctor has assured him he should regain his health within six months with no major side effects after undergoing treatment, which includes radiation and chemotherapy.
Nehring has been a judge with the 3rd District since 1995 after working as a litigator for Prince, Yeates & Geldzahler from 1982 to 1994.
But in addition to being the presiding judge over Utah's 3rd District, which covers Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties, what Nehring also is known for is having been the managing attorney for Utah Legal Services a private, nonprofit organization that provides leal services to low-income Utahns in civil matters, such as child custody and domestic violence issues, as well as those involving landlord/tenant laws, public benefits, and difficulties faced by disabled Utahns and senior citizens.
Nehring said he took the job in 1978 "because I had a wife and a young child and I needed a job, and they were good enough to hire me. But also, I knew if I worked there I would go to court a great deal, and I wanted court experience." He would remain the legal association's managing attorney for three years, and later, create a project to provide private attorneys to represent indigent clients for free.
He said he decided to get into law because of his father-in-law, who was an attorney and whom Nehring describes as "a man of great humor and integrity, of strength. He's my model for being a lawyer."
As for his desire to become a Utah Supreme Court justice, he said simply: "There's no greater honor for a lawyer in our state . . ."
Asked to identify his greatest strength in being considered for the post, he responded: "I think I have an ability to identify legal issues and to wrestle legal problems to the mat."
Nehring's colleagues say he has done a good job of modeling the father-in-law, Mike Hindert, he so greatly respects.
Steven Shapiro, a felony trial lawyer with the Legal Defenders Association in Utah, observed that Nehring "will likely offer a different insight from other members of the court."
Nehring, a Lutheran, would be the only justice who is not a member of Utah's predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "He comes from a slightly different background . . . We consider that to be, for those of us on this side of the aisle, a nice balancing for the Supreme Court.
"I would consider him to be a good, fair judge who will listen to the facts and apply the law without bringing an agenda to the decision."
It is a majority of the members of the 3rd District Court who hope the Utah Senate approves Nehring's nomination, said co-worker William Barrett, also a 3rd District Court judge.
"We hope he gets confirmed. He was a good lawyer. He had a good reputation in town . . . and I think he's an excellent judge whose got a lot of good common sense," Barrett said. "He's great with people, he's a great arbitrator. He listens to all sides before he makes a decision, and if he thinks he's wrong, he re-evaluates his position.
Additionally, Barrett added, "As presiding judge, he does wonders with all the egos down here, not to mention being a team player."
For example, it was Nehring who suggested three judges volunteer to take on some of the thousands of misdemeanor cases that have inundated the court since last summer to spread out the load.
"He was talking about how are we going to wrap these up and suggested maybe what we ought to do is have three volunteer judges triage them . . . and work them through and wrap them up," Barrett recalled. "He said he would be a volunteer. And that's hard duty. But that's the kind of guy he is . . . the kind of guy who will pitch in."
And even though he's been going through his own personal trials of cancer treatment for more than a month, Nehring still comes to work two or three days a week, Barrett said. "He's not just staying home. He's still involved . . . he has some good days and some bad days, but he's hung in there."
These two nominees mark Leavitt's appointment of four of the five top justices on the state's highest court. If confirmed by the Senate, they will replace retiring Justices Richard Howe and Leonard Russon. And Parrish will become the second woman on the panel, along with Chief Justice Christine M. Durham, who was appointed in 1982 by Gov. Scott Matheson. The other two Supreme Court justices are Matthew B. Durrant, 45, and Michael J. Wilkins, 53, both of whom were appointed by Leavitt in 2000.
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