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Posted 09 Jan 2002   For week ended January 04, 2002
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 02Jan02
By Rosemary Pollock
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Utah's All-Mormon Supreme Court Shows Little Debate

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Utah's Supreme Court consists of five justices who act in unison appreciably more than the previous bench. Justices Michael J. Wilkins and Matthew B. Durrant have replaced recently retired justices I. Daniel Stewart and Michael D. Zimmerman. University of Utah professor John Flynn sees the new court as more pragmatic since the departures.

"Academics like to argue about ideas; practical lawyers like to deal with the narrow, practical problem they have got and get it done with," Flynn said. "This court seems to stick to the narrowest interpretation of an issue. That is perhaps the most marked difference between the prior composition and the current one."

The all-white, all Mormon court presides in a state where 70 percent of its residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The court's shared religious beliefs and unanimous rulings disguise conflicts between the justices, who differ on the value of dissent in their political views and on the timely issue of the role of chief justice.

Early next year the court will secretly select a new leader and could make history by choosing Justice Christine M. Durham, the state's first and only female justice. After 19 years on the court, Durham would like the job. Durham has speculated that the new bench may be coming out of a honeymoon period.

"There was a tendency, as a result of that, not to be as eager to push for consensus," she said. "Whereas in the new court we don't know each other that well and one intends to anticipate more opportunities to persuade, perhaps, and I have seen that happen," Durham said.

In a book by James Magleby, an attorney with Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, that profiles each of the member of the Utah Supreme Court from 1896 to 1996, Magleby sees dissents as an affirmation that there is a vigourous debate on the court. "I like to know that the court is not unified or uniform on any one particular issue, because I think that's the strength of the court; There are five individuals on it." Magleby said.

Flynn thinks it is too early to tell if consensus will be the hallmark of the new court, noting much will depend on the types of cases they consider. "A court may for a period of time be relatively dissent-free," Flynn said, "but suddenly get hit with a period of big issue cases."

Utah's Supreme Court, sometimes known as Utah's court of last resort, hears appeals in death penalty cases, first-degree felony convictions, major civil litigations, rulings from the Public Service and Tax commissions, and also rulings on discipline cases against lawyers and state judges.


Supreme Team
Salt Lake Tribune 23Dec01 T2
By Elizabeth Neff: Salt Lake Tribune


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