Richard C. Howe, former Utah Supreme Court chief justice, dies at 97

Howe served 18 years in the legislature, including two years as House Speaker, before moving to the bench.

(Leah Hogsten | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Chief Justice Richard C. Howe prior to being sworn in at the Utah Supreme Court, April 13, 1998. Howe, who served 22 years on the court, including four as chief justice, died Saturday, June 19, 2021, at age 97.

Richard C. Howe, who moved from the Utah House to the Utah Senate to a 22-year run on the Utah Supreme Court, including four as chief justice, has died.

Howe died Saturday from natural causes, his family wrote in a paid obituary, after living several years at a retirement community in Holladay. He was 97.

Howe “was a model jurist,” current Chief Justice Matthew B. Durrant said Wednesday in a statement. “He was fair, thoughtful, and treated everyone with dignity and respect. His passing is a great loss not only for our judicial family, but for the citizens of Utah.”

Howe was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court in December 1980 by then-Gov. Scott Matheson. At the time, the Supreme Court met in the Utah Capitol, the same building Howe had served for 18 years in the legislature. Howe was elevated to chief justice in March 1998, and by the time he retired in December 2002, the justices were convening in the courthouse with Matheson’s name on it, on State Street at 400 South.

Howe, a Democrat, ran for the Utah House in 1950. Between 1951 and 1978, he served six terms in the House — including a stint from 1971 to 1972 as speaker — and two terms in the Utah Senate.

His family said Howe is believed to be the only person in Utah history to serve in the both the Utah House and Senate, and then go on to the Utah Supreme Court.

As a legislator, Howe sponsored major court reforms, including the creation of the state’s Judicial Council — which fields complaints about the professional behavior of judges — and the Circuit Court Act, which converted the old city courts to state courts-of-records, known as circuit courts. (Circuit courts have since been consolidated with district courts.)

Howe firmly believed that while courts are adversarial, they should also be civil.

“The Supreme Court is a place where lawyers can come and present their appeals,” Howe told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1998, “where we as judges will listen and treat them with dignity and respect as they strive to teach us and persuade us.”

When Howe retired in 2002, the ceremony held in his honor featured a keynote speech from James E. Faust, then the second counselor in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s First Presidency. Faust was a longtime friend, and they attended the University of Utah College of Law together. Faust called Howe “an upright man who holds fast to his integrity. … I have known [Howe’s] family for almost 70 years, and in all those years, he always knew who he was and had confidence in his identity.”

Richard Cuddy Howe was born January 20, 1924, in South Cottonwood, Utah, and lived on land that his family owned for 162 years before selling it in 2017. Howe was a third-generation Utahn; his grandfather and namesake, Richard Howe, emigrated to Utah from England in 1855, along with the elder Howe’s future wife, Ann Turner.

Howe’s parents were both educators in the Granite School District, and Howe graduated from Granite High School in 1941. He attended the University of Utah, getting a bachelor’s degree in speech in 1943 and his law degree in 1948.

Howe married Juanita Lyon, from Murray, on Aug. 30, 1949. They raised six children and were together 66 years, until her death in 2015.

After working as a law clerk for Utah Supreme Court Justice James H. Wolfe, Howe took a position as a judge on the Murray City Court for two years. He then started a private practice in Murray, described by his family as a “nuts and bolts” operation that he maintained for 25 years.

As a lawyer, Howe encouraged his clients to do the ethical thing, according to one of his clerks, Victoria Romney, who is now a biotechnology patent attorney.

Once, Romney told The Tribune in 1998, a client wanted Howe to get him out of a business deal, so the client could leave a larger estate. Howe asked the client, “Do you think that your children would rather have a little extra money when you die, or have a father who honors his contracts?” The client opted not to break his commitment, Romney said.

During his legislative days, Howe also served as chair of the Utah Democratic Party. In that role, in 1960, he played host to presidential candidate John F. Kennedy on a trip to Utah, introducing the future U.S. president to David O. McKay, then the president of the Latter-day Saint church. According to the family, Howe explained to Kennedy that the angel whose golden figure stood atop the Salt Lake Temple was Moroni and not Gabriel, as Kennedy had assumed.

Howe is survived by his six children — Christine Schultz, Andrea Reynolds, Bryant Richard, Valerie Winegar, Jeffrey Cuddy, and Craig Harlan — as well as 20 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.

A funeral service is set for Saturday, June 26, at 11 a.m., at the South Cottonwood Ward building, 5605 S. Vine St., Murray. Viewings are set for Friday, June 25, from 6 to 8 p.m., and Saturday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.