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It was 1977 and one of the most important consumer-protection cases Utah had seen in decades was going before the Utah Public Service Commission.
At issue was whether most Utahns as ratepayers of the state's natural-gas utility, Mountain Fuel Supply Co. or company shareholders should benefit from oil discovered while drilling for gas.
The Utah Attorney General's Office, representing ratepayers, had a problem: One of Mountain Fuel's attorneys was former three-term Democratic Gov. Calvin L Rampton, who had appointed all three commissioners hearing the case.
Dale Zabriskie, who at the time was the communications director for Mountain Fuel, recalled the showdown.
"Here was this attorney who was representing the little guy," Zabriskie said, "and he showed up in his Rolls Royce. We all got a kick out of that."
Berman won the case, resulting in reduced heating bills for hundreds of thousands of Utahns over many years.
Berman, long known as one of Utah's most gifted, colorful and politically connected attorneys, died Sunday from the effects of Alzheimer's disease. He was 82.
Berman ran as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1980, losing to then-one-term Sen. Jake Garn. While never elected to public office he served in many appointed and volunteer posts. He was a board member for the Utah Transit Authority, the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts; a trustee for the Salt Lake Art Center; and a member of the nominating committee of the Utah Appellate Courts .
Fellow attorney and Democratic Party activist Sid Baucom remembers Berman's tenacity at everything he did, whether his battles in the courtroom or his zeal for politics.
"Dan and I were fundraising for the Democratic Party and we went to see [an executive for Kennecott]," Baucom said. "He told us he would contribute $5,000 and I was ecstatic. Then Dan said, 'that's not acceptable.' I looked at Dan in disbelief. But in the end, he got him to contribute $25,000."
Berman was reared in Pennsylvania and earned his law degree from Columbia University in New York. He had hitchhiked to the western United States one summer as a teenager and that experience began a lifelong love affair with the Rocky Mountains.
He moved to Utah in the early 1960s to teach law at the University of Utah and in 1963 became a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Willis Ritter, a liberal New Deal Democrat and a fierce believer in breaking up large monopolies. That influenced Berman to become a plaintiffs attorney in antitrust litigation and he was involved in some of the biggest cases in the country.
When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Democrats in Utah were poised to get one of their own appointed to the U.S. 10h Circuit Court of Appeals and Berman was on the top of many Democrats' list, but the party was split into factions (another bloc lobbied for Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham) and in the end, Michael Murphy was selected as a compromise.
Berman angered many in his party when he became an ally and admirer of longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. But Berman was unrepentant and Hatch regarded him a loyal friend.
"Dan Berman was a patriot, a scholar of the law, and a mentor to many. He was deeply passionate about his beliefs and would always go the extra mile to help those in need," Hatch said Thursday in an email to The Tribune.
"He will be missed by many people, including the hundreds of lives he touched over a lifetime of selfless service. Although Dan and I were from different sides of the aisle, he was always a steadfast supporter and a cherished friend. I will always be grateful for his wise counsel."
Former Gov. Mike Leavitt, another Republican who admired Berman's talents, once enlisted Berman and then-Republican state Chairman Frank Suitter to be his strategists in his effort to prevent a private nuclear waste facility from being built on the Goshute Indian Reservation in Skull Valley.
"Dan Berman occupied a place of respect reserved for the nation's finest minds." Leavitt said in a text message. "He was a community builder, a devoted Utahn, a loyal friend and a champion of the disadvantaged."
State Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, is the widow of former senator and longtime Utah AFL-CIO President Ed Mayne.
She said her husband and Berman were the closest of friends, based on their mutual affection for working-class people and their belief in the importance of labor unions.
"Dan was a champion of those who were disadvantaged or struggling," she said. "He and Ed could get in heated arguments over issues and how to solve them because they were both strong, passionate people. But they had a great love for each other, especially when they were duck hunting together."
Berman leaves behind former wife and best friend Susan Berman and six daughters.
Services are scheduled for Jan. 4 at 3 p.m. at Larkin Memorial Chapel, 260 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City.