Retiring Utah Supreme Court Justice Leonard H. Russon was honored Friday for a career that included appointments to the state judiciary's three court levels by three different governors.
"Leonard Russon is simply the kind of judge that all judges want to be," Associate Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant told an audience of Russon's friends, family and colleagues gathered in the Supreme Courtroom.
Russon, who turned 70 on Thursday, was praised as the only person in the state to have served as a district court judge, a Utah Court of Appeals judge and a Utah Supreme Court justice.
He was named a Supreme Court justice by Gov. Mike Leavitt in 1994. Former Gov. Norm Bangerter, a Republican like Leavitt, elevated Russon to the Court of Appeals in 1991. A Democrat, the late Gov. Scott Matheson, tapped Russon for the 3rd District bench in 1984.
Russon is also known for having tried some 200 cases. During his years in private practice, he said he often tried one or two cases a week. "We tried them so fast, we couldn't bill," Russon said.
Third District Judge Timothy R. Hanson said Russon, a friend for more than 35 years, earned his accomplishments. "No silver spoon for Leonard Russon," Hanson said. "He made it himself."
Russon served in the U.S. Navy on a destroyer during the Korean War and served a mission in England for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even after graduating from the University of Utah law school, Russon worked as an insurance adjuster.
Hanson said Russon is "an outstanding jurist" inducted into the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers in 1984. One of Russon's greatest qualities, Hanson said, is his "stick-to-it-ness."
Several speakers, including retired 3rd District Judge John A. Rokich, talked about Russon's interest in health and fitness. Rokich joked that Russon had a "fetish" about washing his hands.
Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Wilkins presented Russon with a floppy sailing hat as well as a check for $1,000 for the U. law school. Russon said he and his wife, Alene, are planning to continue their world travels.
He said he felt sorry for those people who have asked him what he would do once he retired from the working world. "If that's all they have in life," Russon said, "my gosh, that's kind of pitiful."The vacancy on the bench left by Russon will be filled by 3rd District Judge Ronald Nehring.
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