Cache County prosecutor Spencer Walsh was confirmed to the 1st District Court bench on Wednesday via unanimous vote by Utah Senators. Walsh now fills the vacancy created by Judge Thomas Willmore’s retirement nearly eight months ago.
During the confirmation, Walsh stirringly drew attention to a tie bar he was wearing — a keepsake given to him by Deserae Turner and her family for his work as a prosecutor.
“It says, ‘tougher than a bullet,’” Walsh said. “She was shot and she survived, and she’s a great citizen of our state.”
While working the case, Walsh said Turner and her family showed inspirational “forgiveness, toughness and grit.” For Walsh, Judge Kevin Allen was able to recognize Turner’s pain and provide justice while also expressing hope and redemption for the defendant.
“Humbling,” Walsh said of his confirmation. “I will do my best to uphold the law, be fair-minded and be respectful to all.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he was impressed with the large number of defense attorneys who reached out to the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee to endorse Walsh.
“I don’t think in all of my years on the judicial committee I’ve seen so many defense attorneys go to bat for a career prosecutor,” Weiler said.
Walsh expressed his appreciation for his family’s support throughout his career and thanked Gov. Gary Herbert and the Senate for the appointment and confirmation.
“It is an honor to be called upon to serve my community in the judiciary,” Walsh said.
Walsh was unanimously recommended to the Senate by the judicial confirmation committee on Oct. 13. The motion to recommend Walsh was made by Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who said Walsh was a well-rounded attorney who “really understood the courtroom.”
Through working with Walsh over the years, Hillyard championed Walsh’s commitment to children in the legal system, as well as his ability to make tough decisions while never “punting the ball.”
“I don’t know if I know anyone more committed to protecting children than Spencer Walsh — I think this has driven him as a prosecutor,” Hillyard said. “He is, I think, the kind of judge that we need on a trial court level.”
Walsh addressed the judicial confirmation committee on numerous issues ranging from the cost of litigation to the use of deadly force by police and sexual assault cases. Over the past 12 years with the Cache County Attorney’s Office, Walsh recalled two incidents he was involved with where officers utilized deadly force. Walsh said police transparency was necessary to ensure the absence of police brutality and misuse of force.
“I think that it’s very important that there’s transparency,” Walsh said. “When we put trust in our police force we expect them to act appropriately.”
Walsh said he has a “when in doubt, turn it over” policy when it comes to exculpatory evidence being shared with defense counsel. While rights violations and exonerating evidence can result in the reduction of charges and the dismissal of cases, Walsh said, “there’s nothing to be feared by the truth.”
Though he has “aggressively prosecuted sexual violence” cases in the 1st District, Walsh told the committee he once filed charges against an accuser who fabricated rape accusations.
“I think it’s important to pursue truth and due justice,” Walsh said. “If confirmed by the Senate as a judge, I would presume an accused individual is innocent, keep an open mind and base any decisions on all of the evidence and the law.”
Walsh told the committee his time as a prosecutor wouldn’t bias his decision making as a judge but acknowledged the necessary role change.
“I’ve tried to keep the big picture in mind to help offenders get the treatment and rehabilitation they need,” Walsh said. “I’m confident I can make that transition.”
In addition to Judge Allen, Walsh told the committee that Judge Brian Cannell and Judge Thomas Willmore have been of particular influence to him. Walsh spoke to Willmore’s belief in people and dedication to the judiciary — qualities he wished to emulate.
“I’ve really appreciated appearing in front of him for the past 12 years,” Walsh said. “He has a great work ethic, he’s always prepared for court and he cares about people.”
Prior to his 12 years as a Cache County prosecutor, Walsh was prosecuting attorney for the West Valley City Attorney’s Office and a professor at the University of Rockies in Colorado Springs and San Diego University. He received a juris doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark College of Law at Brigham Young University.