Utah high court officials opposing bill take case to media

SB109 » Measure proposes governor, not Utah Supreme Court justices, would pick court's leader.
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Concerned over proposed legislation that would allow the governor to pick the chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, court officials took their case to the media Wednesday.

Justice Jill Parrish told The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board some of the same things she told a Senate committee last week: SB109 is unnecessary, inconsistent with the notion of judicial independence and the separation of powers, and has the potential to cause dissension among the five justices.

Members of the high court have chosen their leader since statehood. Parrish, who plans to meet with the Deseret News today, said the bill could politicize the process by making the chief justice, or someone who wants the position, beholden to the governor.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, had told the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee his bill "speaks to the temperament and congeniality of the courts," but admitted he knew of no specific problems within the court.

"I'm baffled," Parrish told The Tribune . "I don't understand what's motivating it."

Parrish said, however, there has been speculation the bill represents legislative retaliation for any number of decisions made by the Utah Supreme Court, or by the court's rule-making body, the Utah Judicial Council, which is headed by the chief justice.

The most recent skirmish has been over a bill promoted by the courts that seeks to move a judgeship from 2nd District Court, covering Weber, Davis and Morgan counties, to the 5th District Court, covering Washington, Iron and Beaver counties. Chief Justice Christine Durham has said case loads have lightened in the 2nd District, while another judge has been needed in the 5th District for years.

Parrish said legislators representing 2nd District Court counties are "furious" over the proposed shift of resources.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert has said the governor has taken no position on SB109.

Discussion of the bill was to have continued Feb. 2. But it was pulled from the judiciary committee's agenda, apparently because Jenkins is changing the length of term the chief justice would serve from four to either six or eight years. The senator could not be reached for comment.