New Utah Supreme Court Justice Ronald E. Nehring promised Wednesday to follow the most important piece of advice he said he's received about serving on the state's highest court.
"I'm going to do my best not to screw it up," Nehring told an audience of friends, family and colleagues gathered in the Matheson Courthouse's Supreme Courtroom to see him formally sworn in as a justice.
The former 3rd District court judge said that advice came from Gov. Mike Leavitt, who nominated Nehring, along with former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill N. Parrish, to fill two vacancies on the court.
The three-term GOP governor has appointed four of the state's five Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice Christine Durham was named by former Gov. Scott Matheson, a Democrat.
Nehring and Parrish, who was formally sworn in as a justice in April, had a much tougher time winning confirmation from the Utah Senate than their predecessors. The pair were grilled for hours by members of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee.
The senators were interested in everything from their political positions on a number of controversial issues that could come before the court to more personal concerns, including Nehring's battle with cancer.
While some of Nehring's friends worried about the effect of the strenuous Senate hearings on his health, he wanted to confront the committee's concerns. "After facing down cancer, the Utah Senate was not a formidable challenge," Francis Wikstrom, a longtime friend, said.
Another friend, Rich McKeown, praised Nehring for his "brilliant pioneering effort before the Senate committee for 4 1/2 hours of confirmation hearings all while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation" treatments.
McKeown, the governor's chief of staff, suggested future judicial nominees "should have to wear 40-pound sandbags just to make it even."
He read excerpts from Nehring's application for the post, in which he described sitting on the Supreme Court as "judicial high-wire walking without a net. The prospect of setting my feet on that wire stirs my personal ambition."
So did the prospect of winning at sports. Wikstrom, a former president of the Utah Bar, said Nehring was a gifted athlete who almost made the U.S. Olympic team in track some 30 years ago. More recently, at age 40, Nehring tried to run a half-mile in 2 minutes.
He ran three seconds slower than his goal, Wikstrom said, but "what mattered was the dignity of the effort." Nehring extends equal effort to intellectual pursuits, he said, and to his family.
"Many people preach family values. Ron lives them," Wikstrom said, citing the strong relationship Nehring has with his wife, Kristina Hindert, and their three children, Lincoln, Jesse and Kyle.
After being administered the oath of office by the chief justice, Nehring told the gathering that it was "great to be alive" and recounted some of the suggestions he'd heard about how he should approach his new job.
Including the governor's advice. "Immediately after disclosing to me that I was his designee, he announced to me the most important words I've heard and they are, 'Don't screw it up.' "
Leavitt, who arrived late to the swearing-in ceremony, had the last word Wednesday."I believe I had not just the chance to test his intellect, but to understand his soul," the governor said before congratulating Nehring. "I came away from that process reassured that he is very much a worthy servant of the people."
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