Tribune Editorial: We need more women on Utah's courts


(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Court of Appeals justices, from left, Michele Christiansen, Kate Toomey, Jill Pohlman, Ryan Harris, Diana Hagen, David Mortensen, and Gregory Orme, in Salt Lake City Tuesday August 8, 2017.

Utah’s judiciary has reached a milestone. With the recent appointment of Judge Diana Hagen, who previously worked in the office of The United States Attorney for the District of Utah, the Utah Court of Appeals is now majority female. It is the first time, ever, that more women than men sit on any Utah court.

Diversity on Utah’s courts matters. It matters in tone and perspective. It matters to all of Utah’s pioneering women in the law. And it matters to Utah’s sons and daughters, who need to see women in positions of leadership.

While the Court of Appeals is making progress, only two women have sat on Utah’s highest court – Christine M. Durham, retiring later this year, and Jill N. Parrish, who is now a federal district court judge. In Utah’s courts, men outnumber women 151 to 48.

Durham was the state’s first female trial judge in 1978. Her contribution to Utah law and commitment to increasing diversity in Utah’s legal community will be hard to replace.

Part of why the ascent of women onto the Utah judiciary has been so slow is due to an antiquated cultural prohibition on men and women socializing, even in the workplace. A recent Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that men and women in Utah feel social mingling between the sexes is often inappropriate, especially evening activities. Yet social activities are critical in developing client relationships and organizing and staffing work projects. If women aren’t present, they will be left out.

Men choosing to go to lunch with men but not women, categorically, is discrimination. And it needs to change.

Some corporations have started demanding parity in the service-providers who work for them. And that is a good start. But company owners need to do more. Hiring committees need to include diverse participants. Company policies need to provide parental leave, child-care and breastfeeding accommodations. If you don’t think that’s important, try locking your office door, pulling your shirt up, and spending 20 minutes in discomfort while your boss knocks on your door and wonders why you can’t open it. Even more common, try going into the bathroom and sitting in a narrow stall for 20 minutes, then find an available refrigerator to store your bodily fluids in private. It’s awkward, to say the least, and not conducive to a comfortable, or welcoming, work environment.

It is wonderful that the Utah Court of Appeals has made such great strides in including more women judges. But we can do better. We need diverse judges throughout Utah’s judicial system. Twenty-four percent women in Utah’s judiciary is no longer good enough.