- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A House panel is supporting a proposal that would require all new justice court judges in Utah to have law degrees.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports (https://bit.ly/1Ph8Jaq ) that on Friday the House Judiciary Committee recommended the proposal after approving amendments to exclude current judges and rural counties.

“We don’t let individuals who are not trained in medicines just start handing out prescriptions because there might not be enough doctors in the area,” said Rep. Craig Hall, a West Valley City Republican who sponsored the proposal.

Assistant State Court Administrator Rick Schwermer said there are currently about 50 non-law-trained judges in the state, but the number is expected to drop to about 30 in the next two years based on age and retirement.

Maybell Romero, who teaches criminal procedure and criminal law at Brigham Young University, said without proper degrees judges are at risk for more complaints.

“The justice courts, without having law-trained judges there, they are just (ripe) for 6th Amendment violations,” she testified.

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, chairman of the Judicial Conduct Commission, argued that having a law degree doesn’t necessarily make someone a better judge and that there are “good law-trained and non-law-trained judges, and there are poor law-trained and non-law-trained judges.”

King said there were 12 public sanctions issued by the commission against law-trained judges in the last year and only one against an untrained judge.

The bill was amended to limit its application to Utah’s 12 largest counties. The changes will allow people in rural areas more time to transition, said Committee Chairman Lavar Christensen, R-Draper.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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