Former U.S. District Judge A. Sherman Christensen has furthered the quality of America's justice system through his "pioneering spirit" and his efforts will help judges, lawyers and students for years to come.

That was the consensus of more than 400 friends and colleagues who gathered Friday to honor Christensen, who established the country's first Inns of Court in Utah in 1980."We came not just because of his scholarship . . . and not because we envy him . . . and not because we stand in awe of him. We came because we treasure, honor and value his friendship," said Chief Judge Bruce S. Jenkins of the U.S. District Court of Utah. The words were a few of the many offered in tribute to the former judge.

The Inns of Court is a non-profit organization designed to aid judges, lawyers and law students in their professions.

"It is kind of like an internship program where everyone teaches everyone else," said Michael G. Daigneault, executive director of the American Inns Foundation in Washington, D.C. "The judges learn as much from each other and other lawyers and students as the others do," he said.

The American Inns of Court program began in 1980 after a meeting at O.C. Tanner's country home. Those in attendance were, then U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger, Dallin H. Oaks, now a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Rex Lee, the new president of Brigham Young University.

The prestigious group developed the idea based on the Inns program in England. The program was seen as a way to improve justice in America. Christensen was chosen by Burger to head up the experiment.

"Ideas need the care of a wise counselor . . . and through Providence I believe that wise counselor was Judge Christensen," said Professor Peter Murphy.

Lee said there were three important factors involved in the early success of the Inns program. They were: the appointment of Christensen, the involvement of the chief justice of the United States, and the original members who "made the program."

"The movement which may well be the most significant to our profession in the '80s is the Inns," said Lee. "I am pleased to be affiliated with the world's foremost lawyering facility."

Daigneault termed the Inns the "fastest growing legal organization in the United States today." Since the first American Inns of Court began in Provo in 1980, 83 have joined the ranks. "About one-fifth of all federal judges in the United States are active members," said Daigneault. "And over 450 state judges are members."

Christensen was presented with the Chairman's Award Friday, for his "pioneering efforts." American Inns of Court I, the original Utah chapter, was renamed the A. Sherman Christensen Inn No. 1 in 1985.

Being a founding member of the Inns program has given Christensen "the greatest satisfaction I have ever had in my legal career. If this opportunity had come earlier in my legal career," said Christensen, "I could have been a better judge."