The appointment of a new 1st District Court judge has roused concern in the local legal community.
On Wednesday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert appointed his 100th judge to the bench: Robert Lund, who’s spent nearly 20 years the United States Attorney’s Office for the district of Utah, most currently in the role of national security and anti-terrorism coordinator.
State Sen. Lyle Hillyard, a Cache County Republican who is a member of the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee that will make a recommendation on Lund’s appointment after a period of public comment, said it’s very uncommon for a governor to appoint a judge who isn’t from the area the judge will preside in — especially when local attorneys had been nominated for the position.
“We had three local lawyers. Any one of the three would have been great,” Hillyard said in an interview on Friday. “You can understand some areas where they don’t have a lot of lawyers, but Logan certainly has very good lawyers.”
Local lawyers Shawn Bailey of Peck, Hadfield & Moore; Christian Hansen of Hillyard, Anderson & Olsen; and Spencer Walsh of the Cache County Attorney’s Office were three of the five attorneys nominated by the 1st District Judicial Nominating Commission after reviewing applicants.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, who chairs the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee, said more than 30 lawyers applied for the position. He agreed that it is not the norm for a judge to be appointed from outside the district.
“It is unusual,” Weiler said, “but it’s not unprecedented.”
One prominent member of the legal community, who spoke with The Herald Journal on the condition of anonymity, said it was “insanely offensive” that one of the three local attorneys didn’t get appointed.
He said the frustration in the legal community, though, has very little to do with Lund and more to do with the “huge message” Herbert sent to the people of the 1st District. In his view, the appointment tells the citizens of the 1st District there isn’t anyone locally — out of over 200,000 residents — who can adequately serve as a judge in the community.
“That message that he sent by that appointment is very offensive and just flat-out wrong,” he said. “By appointing someone who has not served this community, ever, the governor, from my perspective, is just telling the people in the 1st District that he doesn’t value their voice and he doesn’t value the people.”
He said Herbert has a good track record for the judges he’s appointed, which makes this appointment all the more shocking.
Marty Moore, local attorney and 1st Division commissioner for the Utah State Bar Commission, said there is a community-standards aspect to judging — trial judges are almost always members of the community they serve and apply the community’s standards to an extent in the courtroom.
“I take a parochial viewpoint on judicial selections,” Moore said. “People in the community, know the community.”
Moore said when a committee nominates qualified local candidates and the governor appoints anyone from outside the area, regardless of who it is, it concerns the local community.
“There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth,” Moore said.
The second, and lesser, cause for concern in the community comes from a case Lund prosecuted in 2002. First-time offender and Salt Lake City resident Weldon Angelos was sentenced to 55 years in a federal penitentiary for three instances of selling marijuana to an informant. He allegedly had a Glock 10mm on his person during one of the sales.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, after the sentencing, Lund said the term would send a message of serious consequences to armed drug dealers and that there was “no chance at all” the president at the time — George W. Bush — would commute the sentence.
But according to Mark Osler, Angelos’ attorney and law professor at the University of St. Thomas, Angelos was released after serving 13 years. Osler told The Herald Journal that Lund filed a discretionary motion for Angelos’ early release.
Osler said he prepared the petition for former President Barack Obama to commute Angelos’ sentence, which did not happen.
“I wish that he had,” Osler said. “But Obama did not do that.”
Osler confirmed Lund’s actions solely got Angelos released from prison. Olser said he could not speak to Lund’s motivations, only that he was grateful.
Some Cache Valley attorney’s aren’t concerned with Lund’s appointment.
One attorney said Lund should bring lots of experience to the courtroom, though he acknowledged some of the rumblings of dissatisfaction about the appointee.
“I think the feeling in the community is it’s kind of a slap in the face to all the attorneys in Northern Utah when you pick someone from out of town,” he said. “That being said, I think he’s obviously got the qualifications to be a good judge.”
He said, personally, he is not in an uproar about the selection.
“He’s the one the governor selected,” he said. “We just need to get him sworn in and start proceeding.”
According to the attorney, there’s a general anxiety when any judge is appointed because of the competitive process and unfamiliarity with the new judge and potential changes a new judge could bring.
Logan City Attorney Kymber Housley said he met Lund in his first year of law school at Brigham Young University, though they haven’t kept contact since then. He described Lund as a “competent individual” and a “great guy.”
Housley said although he has heard the criticisms, Lund has acquired great experience for the position over the course of his career and that’s what ultimately matters.
“We would hope that they would just appoint the best qualified people,” Housley said.
Housley said although the local candidates are great people, being local isn’t a qualification to apply for the job.
“I certainly have no criticisms of him,” Housley said. “I think he’s well qualified.”
Hillyard said if Lund is confirmed he will have to relocate to the 1st District — residing in either Cache, Rich or Box Elder County. Hillyard said the committee will give a recommendation on Lund to the Utah Senate; members of the Senate, however, can vote anyway they see fit.
“I can only think of two cases in my time down here where someone has had to move to become the judge,” Hillyard said.
At the time of the article, Lund could not be reached for comment.