Salt Lake City, UT—Utah’s Judicial Branch, through a new Administrative Order, has adopted a Risk Response Plan that sets forth safety and operational requirements for courts as they move through three risk phases: Red, Yellow, and Green. The plan also includes guidelines for conducting jury trials and Juvenile Court hearings.
The risk phases for the courts are not the same as the Governor’s risk phases. The courts created a pandemic response plan in September 2009, adopting three risk phases at that time.
While the Judicial Branch takes into account the Governor’s color coded risk phases as it considers court operations, it has chosen a more cautious approach because it recognizes that among the three branches of government, the courts have the power to compel people to appear in court, either for a hearing, or for jury service.
Currently, all court locations are operating under the Red phase. This means, critical court functions continue, and courts are conducting many other criminal and civil proceedings, but most hearings and services are being done remotely. Jury trials will not resume until a court moves into the Yellow phase, and then only if strict safety protocols are followed.
The new Risk Response Plan lays out a process by which courts in a county may seek approval from the Judicial Council to move to the Yellow phase. The council will approve the request to move to the Yellow phase when the local health department confirms that the rate of transmission for the county in which the court is located is consistently decreasing, or is stable at a level well below the level that would overwhelm the Utah healthcare system. Courts can resume in-person operations under the Yellow phase if the appropriate safeguards outlined in the Risk Response Plan are followed. Based on recommendations from state health officials, the courts do not anticipate any court transitioning to the Green phase in the foreseeable future.
The public can check the status of each court location by county by visiting the Utah Courts COVID-19Alerts Page.
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Salt Lake City, UT—The Utah Judicial Council is seeking public comment on two court commissioners as required by Utah Code of Judicial Administration Rule 3-201. The commissioners are up for retention for a four-year term. Individuals who wish to comment on the court commissioners are encouraged, but not required, to provide their names and contact information. The comment period closes on July 3, 2020.
The court commissioners up for retention and the email addresses to which comments should be sent are as follows:
Commissioner Kim M. Luhn
Third District Court
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Sean M. Petersen
Fourth District Court
Comments to email@example.com
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Salt Lake City, UT—Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant has issued an updated Administrative Order. The order instructs judges to begin expanding virtual hearings for more cases in both criminal and civil matters, including bench trials.
During the moderate-risk phase of the pandemic courts will not resume in-person proceedings, including jury trails, until further notice. There are limited exceptions to the prohibition of in-person proceedings for unusual circumstances.
The Supreme Court has directed the creation of a judicial working group to establish a way to conduct safe and effective in-person court proceedings that follow state and federal pandemic safety guidelines. The working group is expected to submit its recommendations to the Utah Judicial Council for approval before in-person hearings will resume.
Most hearings can be held remotely in the meantime with the consent of parties, including bench trials. If a judge believes that a party’s consent to a remote bench trail is being unreasonably withheld, the updated administrative order allows a judge to order the bench trial to proceed.
Click here to read the May 11, 2020 Administrative Order:
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Salt Lake City, UT—Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant has issued an updated Administrative Order. The new order expands the ability for judges to hold more hearings via remote video or telephone, including bench trials.
The order offers further guidance to Utah judges. It addresses courthouse operations, requiring that each court across the state will perform the mission-critical work of the judiciary while also providing for the safety of court personnel and the public.
The order also directs the creation of a judicial working group to establish a way to conduct safe and effective in-person court proceedings. The working group will consist of judges from all court levels, with rural and urban representation.
Among consideration will be a proposed plan to hold jury trails while conforming to the latest state and federal COVID-19 safety guidelines. The Utah Judicial Council must approve any proposal before it is implemented.
Click here to read the May 1, 2020 Administrative Order:
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Salt Lake City, UT — On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, the Utah Supreme Court entered an order permitting certain applicants to the Utah State Bar to be admitted to practice law in Utah if they agree to undertake 360 hours of practice under the supervision of an experienced attorney and either graduate from a law school with a high bar passage rate or are currently in good standing and licensed in another jurisdiction. This is a temporary accommodation designed to provide relief to certain applicants who had applied to take the Utah bar examination in July 2020 but will be unable to do so because of public health concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that applicants invest several weeks and thousands of dollars preparing to take the bar exam,” stated Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant. “Because of the crisis, not only could we not guarantee that Utah could offer the bar examination safely, we could not tell applicants when they should start to invest the time and money to prepare for the exam.” The Utah Supreme Court explored a number of possible solutions, including administering the examination under social distancing protocols or permitting these applicants to work under the “third-year practice rule” until an exam could be offered. Because the examination is administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, certain potential paths, like remote examination, may at some point become available, but it is unclear when, or even if, that might occur. “We hope that the bar exam will in some form become available sooner than is now anticipated, but at present, the other solutions we have examined have an unacceptable level of uncertainty for applicants and employers,” said Durrant.
On April 9, 2020, the Utah Supreme Court circulated a draft proposal that would provide a one-time path to licensure for some recent law school graduates. The proposal drew more than 500 comments and sparked national interest. After reviewing those comments, the Court revised the order to include certain applicants licensed to practice in another state and expanded the category of those who can serve as supervisors to the applicants.
Applicants must meet several requirements to qualify for alternative admission. The requirements are designed to ensure that the attorneys admitted to practice under this rule are as competent as those admitted after passing the two-day, 12-hour bar examination. Applicants must both fall under the definition of “Qualified Candidate” and must perform 360 hours of legal service under the supervision of an experienced attorney.
To be considered a “Qualified Candidate,” the applicant must either be a law school graduate or an attorney in good standing in another jurisdiction, and must have submitted an application to take the Utah bar examination on or before April 1, 2020.
Law school graduates must have graduated from a law school with an overall (meaning from all bar examinations, not just the Utah exam) first-time passing rate of 86% or greater in 2019. The court selected 86% as the cutoff because that was the passing-rate of all first-time takers of the Utah bar examination in 2019. By way of comparison, in 2019, the first-time taker passing rate for graduates of the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah was 90.4% and was 89.5% for graduates of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. In addition, a graduate must be taking the examination for the first time.
If the applicant is an attorney from another jurisdiction who applied to take Utah’s bar examination, that attorney must be in good standing, have passed the bar exam in the other jurisdiction, and have graduated from an approved law school.
All Qualified Candidates must fulfill other typical requirements to be a member of the Utah bar, including undergoing a character and fitness check and passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, which tests knowledge of the profession’s ethical standards. Graduation from a highly-regarded law school and supervised practice reflect traditional paths to bar admission used by many jurisdictions before the widespread acceptance of a standardized examination.
The Utah Supreme Court understands there will be a number of applicants who will not be able to avail themselves of the alternative pathway. To accommodate those applicants, as well as others who want to gain admission through the bar exam, the court will not require them to wait until the next regularly-scheduled bar examination in February 2021, but will work with the National Conference of Bar Examiners to offer the examination in Utah as soon as it can be done safely.
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Salina, UT—The Sevier County Judicial Nominating Commission has announced the appointment of Judge Mark McIff to fill the Salina City Justice Court vacancy. The position will replace Judge Cordell Pearson who left the position in Dec. 2019.
Judge Mark McIff currently serves as judge of several justice courts in Sevier County, Piute County, and Sanpete County. He is also an attorney who practices law in the South Central Utah area. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting (1995) from Southern Utah University and his Juris Doctorate (1998) from Gonzaga University. He formerly held the positions of Piute County Attorney, Wayne County Attorney, Deputy Sevier County Attorney, Deputy Garfield County Attorney, city prosecutor for several cities, and chief criminal prosecutor for the Wasatch County Attorney’s Office.
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Vernal, UT— A panel of judges is scheduled to meet on May 8, 2020, to hear testimony to determine whether good cause exists to call a grand jury. The meeting will take place at 920 West Hwy 40, Vernal, Utah 84078.
Those wanting to testify before the panel of judges should contact Michael C. Drechsel, Assistant State Court Administrator, Administrative Office of the Courts, at (801) 578-3821 by Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at noon, to schedule an appointment and receive further specific instructions. If no appointments are scheduled by that time, the meeting will be canceled without further notice.
Due to significant public health concerns regarding COVID-19, and consistent with the directives of state officials, the members of the panel of judges will appear at the meeting remotely using video conferencing software. Those wishing to testify will appear for individual appointments at the Vernal courthouse where a single panel staff member will be present to operate the video conferencing software and facilitate the individual’s testimony to the panel of judges. As pandemic conditions continue to evolve, all hearings that are scheduled may be canceled up to the last minute to ensure compliance with any public health directive.
Utah’s grand jury statute requires a panel of judges selected from throughout the state to hold a hearing in each judicial district every three years. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether a grand jury should be summoned based upon evidence of criminal activity. The panel of judges will hear, in secret, all persons claiming information that justifies calling a grand jury. An individual who testifies must be prepared to provide evidence to support a claim that justifies calling a grand jury. The Attorney General, a county attorney, district attorney, or special prosecutor appointed under U.C.A. section 77-10a-1 can also present evidence of criminal activity. Controversies between individual parties, civil matters, and matters that are subject to criminal appeal will not be considered. Any individual who appears before the panel of judges will be placed under oath. Individuals who need special accommodation during the hearing must notify Mr. Drechsel at least three business days prior to the hearing.
The members of the grand jury panel of judges are: Supervising Judge W. Brent West, 2nd District Court; Judge Lynn W. Davis, 4th District Court; Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills, 3rd District Court; Judge Eric A. Ludlow, 5th District Court; and Judge Kara Pettit, 3rd District Court. Additional information regarding the grand jury panel of judges is available at the Utah Court’s website or in the Utah Code.
Salt Lake City, UT— Utah Supreme Court Justice Matthew B. Durrant has been elected to serve a third term as chief justice by a unanimous vote of his fellow justices.
Once elected by a vote of the justices, the chief justice serves a four-year term. The chief justice presides over the Utah Supreme Court, as well as the Utah Judicial Council, which oversees the administrative operations of Utah State Courts.
Chief Justice Durrant is leading the courts through the unprecedented circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Chief’s leadership along with the hard work of every judicial branch employee and judge has helped the court move collectively across a very large state to keep the courts open for filings and hearings through online services and remote hearings. The Chief’s dedication to access to justice is apparent in his efforts to address the needs of the people through the Self Help Center and online court forms and services during the pandemic. The speed with which the judges and staff have implemented changes is remarkable. In a message to all court staff and judges, Durrant expressed his appreciation:
“The events of the last three weeks have been extraordinary and the work of our court employees and judges has also been extraordinary. . . . We are moving together, collectively, across a very large state, to accomplish the mission critical work of the courts. We know that each of you is doing your best, and we cannot ask for more. The judicial branch of government is open for business thanks to your hard work. We thank you for your dedication and your commitment to the mission of the courts.”
Chief Justice Durrant was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court in January 2000 by Governor Michael O. Leavitt. He succeeded then Chief Justice Christine Durham in 2012.
Before his appointment to the Utah Supreme Court, Chief Justice Durrant served as a trial judge in the Third Judicial District. He received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1984.
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Aurora, UT—The Sevier County Judicial Nominating Commission has announced the appointment of Judge Cyndee Probert to fill the Aurora City Justice Court vacancy. The position will replace Judge Cordell Pearson who left the position in December, 2019.
Judge Cyndee Probert was appointed to the Fillmore City Justice Court in 2015. Judge Probert graduated from the American Institute for Medical Assisting with a certificate in medical office management. She was then employed at Sevier Valley Hospital. Judge Probert was later employed for eight years as an in-court clerk and office manager where she served both the Millard County and Fillmore City Justice Courts. Judge Probert is currently enrolled and completing coursework at the National Judicial College. She is also a member on the Board of Justice Court Judges.
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