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During more than two decades as a Utah Court of Appeals judge, James Z. Davis Jr. honed a reputation for hard work and a sharp legal mind, as well as a wry sense of humor.

Davis, who retired from the bench in November, died Saturday in Salt Lake City at age 72. His colleagues said the former jurist will be missed and praised him for his contributions to the justice system.

"He was able to distill a case down to its essence, to see where the real conflict between the parties was," Court of Appeals Judge Fred Voros said Tuesday.

In addition, Voros said, Davis had a "terrific work ethic" and was extremely well-prepared for court hearings.

And, he said, after the judges were through talking about a case, Davis would entertain them with funny stories.

"He had a droll sense of humor," Voros said. "Everyone liked him."

Appeals Court Judge Gregory Orme said the humor often was at Davis' own expense.

Orme also cited Davis' "impeccable" preparation, which included taking thorough notes as he read briefs and often roughing out a proposed opinion.

But even with all that preparation, Davis kept an open mind and liked the three-judge panels that hear cases to reach a unanimous decision if possible, Orme said.

"He really loved being a judge," Orme added.

Davis, who had a native intellect and curiosity about things, enjoyed his time on the bench, according to Paula Carr, his companion for more than 30 years.

"He absolutely loved [being a judge]," said Carr, who is the Ogden Justice Court administrator. "He loved his colleagues. He was truly a people person."

Davis was born Dec. 16, 1943, in Salt Lake City to James Z. and Blossom T. Davis. After earning a law degree from the S.J. Quinney School of Law at the University of Utah in 1968, he served in U.S. Army military intelligence for two years, including a tour as a combat intelligence officer in Vietnam.

His legal career included work in private practice and service as a deputy Weber County attorney and Weber County police legal adviser.

Davis was a partner at Thatcher, Glasmann & Davis and then a shareholder and director at Ray, Quinney & Nebeker. He was president of the Utah State Bar from 1991 to 1992 and served as Bar representative on the Utah Judicial Council.

Davis was appointed to the Utah Court of Appeals by Gov. Mike Leavitt in November 1993 and served two terms as presiding judge of the body. He also was selected by the appeals court on three occasions to serve as its representative on the Utah Judicial Council. He received the Lifetime Service Award from the Utah State Bar in 2014.

Davis is survived by his son, James Z. Davis III; daughter-in-law, Chrystal; granddaughter, Macey; Carr; and Carr's daughter, Annie.

According to his obituary, Davis had requested that no funeral be held, and a celebration of life will be scheduled at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Huntsman Cancer Institute or another charity are requested.

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC