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Gov. Gary Herbert has nominated Judge Constandinos Himonas to fill a vacancy on the Utah Supreme Court created by the retirement of Justice Ronald Nehring.
The nomination, which is subject to Senate confirmation, is Herbert's second as governor. If confirmed, Himonas, who is Greek Orthodox, would be the only non-Mormon on the state's high court.
"I believe he's a man not only of integrity but a man of hard work, and it is hard work to be on the Supreme Court," Herbert said.
Himonas, who earned his law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, has sat on the 3rd District bench for a decade.
"In that capacity, something I've always tried to remember is that the cases we hear as judges represent either the most important thing in the lives of the people in front of us, or one of the most important things," he said. "If confirmed, I commit to this degree of dedication. It's certainly one the people of this great state deserve."
The Senate will likely hold a confirmation hearing next month and, if everything goes smoothly, vote to confirm him shortly after.
A workhorse • Michael O'Brien, worked for about a dozen years with Himonas at the law firm of Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough, and described "Deno," as he is commonly known, as a workhorse with a keen sense of humor.
"Very few people outworked Deno on any case he's working on. He's very bright, his credentials show that. … He's got a healthy intellectual curiosity," O'Brien said.
O'Brien recalled a case where they were representing The Salt Lake Tribune in an arbitration over a union grievance and cross-examining a physically intimidating Teamster who was a key witness in the case. At one point, the union man got upset and stood up and was nose-to-nose with Himonas.
O'Brien said Himonas smiled, patted the Teamster on the shoulder and made a joke "and went on with his cross-examination that pretty much devastated [the opposition] case."
In his courtroom, O'Brien said everyone felt they were treated fairly, even when they lost. "He prepares for your case, he considers the issues. He'll hear your arguments, even if he doesn't rule in your favor," he said.
In Herbert's first nomination to the Supreme Court in 2010 he chose Justice Thomas Lee, the brother of U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and son of former U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee.
Herbert would have had a third nomination to make, as Justice Jill Parrish had been nominated by President Barack Obama to fill a vacancy on the federal court. But her nomination was caught up in political gamesmanship in the U.S. Senate and she was not confirmed before Congress adjourned, meaning Obama would have to resubmit the nomination next year, if he chooses.
No litmus test • Herbert said scores of applicants sought the position created by Nehring's retirement. A nominating commission narrowed the field to seven six men and a woman who were interviewed, then the list was narrowed to four and then two.
"It's thorough, it's in-depth and the good news for the people of Utah is I've had some very good nominees to pick from and I picked the very best one for the Supreme Court today," Herbert said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he believes Himonas will do a "fine job" on the Supreme Court.
"I've always found him to be deeply concerned about issues of fairness and the rule of law and the complexity of legal questions surrounding the issues that come before him," Gill said. "I've always found him to be eminently fair and concerned that making sure justice is done for everyone and done the right way and as a Supreme Court jurist, I'm sure he'll do a great job."
Herbert said he did not ask Himonas about his political views and there were no litmus tests, which the governor said, is too often the case at the federal level.
He did ask Himonas how he separates his personal views from the case before him and, as with all judges that he nominates, expects him to adhere to the letter of the law and the Constitution when deciding cases.
"I expect all of our judges to be strict constructionists, meaning they interpret the law that's on the books in the way that is intended by our Legislature," Herbert said.
Himonas is registered as an unaffiliated voter and has not voted in any partisan-primary elections in the last 25 years.
Cases • He has presided over more than 100 jury trials. He was originally the judge in the case of Curtis Allgier, a heavily tattooed white supremacist who pleaded guilty in the murder of corrections officer Stephen Anderson in an escape attempt. Himonas recused himself from the case because he knew Anderson.
He was the judge in the trial of Jorge Martin Benvenuto for the 1996 shooting of Zachary Snarr and Yvette Rodier, 18-year-olds who were photographing the moon at Little Dell Reservoir. Benvenuto struck a plea deal in the case to take the death penalty off the table. And Himonas presided in the trial of several defendants charged with the gang-related drive-by shooting of 7-year-old Maria del Carmen Menchaca while she was playing in the yard of her Glendale home.
Himonas also handled a case involving the firing of a Davis County prosecutor, reversing the termination for using tainted testimony to get a robbery conviction. The court of appeals wrote a stongly worded opinion overturning Himonas, one of a handful of cases in which his rulings were overturned. Another appeal is pending.
Sen. Todd Weiler, an attorney and member of the confirmation committee, said Himonas took him to lunch 19 years ago when Weiler was trying to get a job at the firm where Himonas worked, but didn't end up getting hired. Weiler said he has only heard positive feedback about the judge.
"I've never heard a complaint about him," Weiler said, but the committee would still seek input from the public and look at Himonas' record "and see if there's anything that needs a second look."
Himonas was raised in Price, and graduated from Carbon High School and received a bachelor's in economics from the University of Utah. He was an attorney with Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough until his appointment to the bench in 2004 by then-Gov. Olene Walker.