In November of 2019, after nine years as Grand County Justice Court Judge, I was required by Utah State law to leave the bench as I had turned 75 years old. A committee was formed to find a successor from among seven applicants. The committee recommended three candidates to the Grand County Council, all of whom were approved by the Administrative Office of the Courts and found to be qualified. The three candidates submitted were a sitting Justice Court judge from an adjoining county, a local attorney and an employee from the Grand County Attorney’s office.
On Dec. 17, 2019, the County Council met to select and appoint the new judge. For reasons unclear to me, the Council went into closed session to appoint the new judge, and also approve a new attorney position for the County Attorney’s office at a salary of $80,000.00 plus benefits and appoint a County Council Administrator. Closed sessions are not recorded and are not subject to review by Grand County citizens.
As the three candidates had already been approved, no apparent reason for a closed session was evident. When the Council went back into open session, they chose to appoint the County Attorney’s employee over a practicing attorney and a highly respected judge. Three councilmembers did vote for the judge and I commend them for that.
The Council can choose anyone they want to fill this position. Perhaps they should be more transparent in how they choose and offer reasons for choosing a particular candidate. In my nine years, only one council member has attended a court session. The councilmembers have never observed the Court to see what it does and why it is important to choose the right person. I believe the councilmembers would hire the best-qualified person if it was a business in which they were involved.
Retired judge for the Grand County Justice Court