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The Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee voted Tuesday to recommend that 3rd District Judge Constandinos "Deno" Himonas be confirmed for a spot on the Utah Supreme Court.
The vote was 7-0 to approve Himonas, who was nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert to fill the vacancy created by the Feb. 1 retirement of Justice Ronald Nehring. A vote by the entire Utah Senate on the confirmation is expected to take place Friday.
If approved, Himonas, who is Greek Orthodox, would be the only non-Mormon on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan who noted he was "highly offended" by a Salt Lake Tribune editorial that mentioned Nehring is non-Mormon and urged the appointment of another non-Mormon to foster a diverse court said Himonas' selection was not based on religion. The editorial was published in August and did not name any possible candidates.
In a statement to the committee, Himonas said his parents made education a top priority and demonstrated a work ethic "that left an indelible mark on me." He felt a call to serve the community and thought the best way was to serve on the bench, the judge said.
Himonas declined to answer several questions on specific legal issues including one by Hillyard asking him for his opinion of the death penalty but did say he makes decisions by studying the language of a statute and if there is any ambiguity, the history of the statute. That process avoids judicial overreach, he said.
When asked how he feels when a higher court overturns one of his decisions, Himonas said he tries to take away a lesson in the decision.
Himonas was appointed to the 3rd District bench by then-Gov. Olene Walker in 2004. At the time, he was an attorney with Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough handling civil litigation.
During his time as a judge, Himonas has overseen thousands of cases, including more than 100 jury trials. He serves as the associate presiding judge for the 3rd District.
He sentenced Alan Lee Marx in January to a one-to-15-year prison term in the cold case beating death of Ward "Hank" Woolverton in 1997 and five years to life for aggravated robbery. Also that month, the judge denied a motion by Marc Sessions Jenson who was charged with, and later acquitted of, eight felonies in connection with a failed resort development to disqualify the trial judge in that case.
Other matters that have come before Himonas include the case 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 was raised in Price and graduated from Carbon High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics at the University of Utah and a law degree at the University of Chicago Law School.
The nomination is Herbert's second to the Supreme Court. In 2010, he chose Justice Thomas Lee, brother of U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and son of former U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee.
Herbert has said he did not ask Himonas about his political views and there were no litmus tests. The judge is registered as an unaffiliated voter and has not voted in any partisan primary elections in the past 25 years.