The leadership of the Utah State Bar is deeply concerned that communications such as Sen. Buttars' letter represent more than simple expressions of disappointment and are more appropriately characterized as attempts to improperly influence a judge's decisions based on politics.
We believe that this type of intrusion into judicial decision making is not only inappropriate but also evidences a lack of understanding in the system of checks and balances framed by our forefathers under our state and federal constitutions, and threatens the fairness and impartiality of our courts.
When our founders wrote the Constitution, they purposely shielded courts from political influence so judges could protect the rights of each individual. This was a revolutionary idea. Before then, courts too often were manipulated by the rich and powerful seeking to protect their interests and deny justice to those who had been wronged.
We created a system where judges are able to decide cases free from political pressures; where they consider only the facts and the law in making their decisions, which gives us all our "day in court." We must not turn the clock back to the days of justice only for the few and privileged because of a handful of decisions the few and privileged dislike.
Attempts to intimidate judges are attempts to influence their decisions. If we let external pressure tip the scales of justice, we will lose the only place where we each can be heard on an equal footing.
Too often, when people are at odds with a judge's decision, they lash out in anger and claim that our courts are liberal or out of control. Judges don't make the laws; they apply the law of our Constitution and the laws passed by our Legislature to the facts of each individual case. Reasonable people can differ on the application of laws to facts, which is why we also have a right to appeal court decisions if we believe they are in error or unfair.
Judges are the nation's referees. They must make tough decisions and enforce the rules, even when that isn't popular. Judges' decisions usually make one side angry. Just like with referees, we do not want judges who can be bought, bullied or fired when someone is unhappy with a decision. Courts are essential to an orderly society. Our economy depends upon a judicial system which is consistent, predictable and respected. Regardless of the power, prestige, popularity or political affiliation by those affected by their rulings, judges must be free to resolve disputes based solely on the facts properly before them and the applicable law.
Everyone has a right to fair and impartial justice. When it is our turn in court, we don't want a judge that has become the tool of the privileged few. We expect judges who seek justice, fairly and honestly for all, and not those who will succumb to political pressure.
We need our three branches of government to be separate, independent and equal, to provide the checks and balances on one another which have made our nation great. Included in those checks and balances are courts which are fair, impartial and unfettered from improper threats or political influence.
V. LOWRY SNOW is president of the Utah State Bar.