Utah legislature the latest to try and end non-attorney judges; effort requires amendment to state’s constitution

I mentioned the situation in Indiana earlier today (2015 law requires all newly elected Town and City judges to be attorneys, 2016 bill wants to go back to allowing non-attorney judges). Now Utah might be moving to ending its non-attorney judges as well.

First, some background.

From 1895 to 1945 Supreme Court justices and District Court judges were required to “be a member of the bar, learned in the law…” This was later amended in 1945 to “an active member of the bar in good standing [and] learned in the law…

When the state rewrote its Judiciary Article in 1985 Supreme Court Justices and all judges of “courts of record” were required to be “admitted to practice law in Utah.” However, judges of courts not of record were given a specific constitutional exemption

Judges of courts not of record shall be selected in a manner, for a term, and with qualifications provided by statute. However, no qualification may be imposed which requires judges of courts not of record to be admitted to practice law.

And there the matter has remain for effectively 30 years until now. HJR 1 of 2016 would remove the exemption and provide judges of courts not of record would have to be attorneys. Their age, residency and other requirements would be identical to courts of record, except for the Supreme Court (must be at least 30).

Judges of courts not of record shall be at least 25 years old, United States citizens, Utah residents for three years preceding selection, and admitted to practice law in Utah, and shall have any other qualifications provided by statute.

HJR 1 has been prefiled for the 2016 session.