Third District Judge Paige Petersen — who has prosecuted violent criminals in Utah, mob bosses in New York and Serbian warlords at The Hague in the Netherlands — has been nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert to the Utah Supreme Court.
If confirmed by the state Senate, Petersen will take the place of Christine Durham, who is the only female justice on the Utah Supreme Court. Durham, the state’s longest-serving judge, is retiring as of Nov. 16.
Herbert, who announced his choice Tuesday at a news conference at the Capitol, said Petersen has “great intellectual firepower” and a solid work ethic. He also praised his nominee’s dedication to the rule of law, saying Petersen applies the facts and the law to make a decision.
“This was not an easy appointment,” Herbert added, “because the pool that she came from was significantly well qualified.”
The governor picked Petersen out of a pool of seven finalists who applied for the position.
Petersen, 45, said she is humbled by the appointment and thanked her family and teachers for making her accomplishments possible. She also expressed gratitude to Herbert for selecting her for the position on the state’s high court.
Petersen, who was raised in Emery County, is a graduate of Carbon High School. She earned an associate degree from the College of Eastern Utah and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah, then attended Yale Law School, where she graduated with a law degree in 1999.
After working as a clerk for a federal judge in Ohio and practicing law with a New York City firm, Petersen served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, handling cases involving organized crime and international narcotics trafficking.
She then served a two-year stint prosecuting war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, where she was a member of the trial team that successfully prosecuted the former Serbian chief of police for ethnic cleansing and mass murder in Kosovo.
Petersen started work in 2012 at the U.S. attorney’s office in Utah, where she prosecuted violent crimes. She was appointed by Herbert as a 3rd District judge in 2015.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Herbert also paid tribute to Durham, calling her a trailblazer. The justice, who has served on the Supreme Court since 1982, “has an impressive legacy of service,” he said.
If confirmed, Petersen will be Herbert’s 80th appointment to the state court bench and his fourth to the five-member Supreme Court. Utah has 116 state court judges.