The complaint Gov. Norm Bangerter hears most often this year about the courts focuses on a 1974 murder case - and on a misunderstanding of Utah's justice system.
The public continues to vent frustration over the exhaustive appeals process death-row inmate William Andrews has undertaken during the past 15 years. Andrews was convicted of the torture slayings of three people in the Ogden Hi-Fi Shop case.Addressing the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century at a conference Thursday, Bangerter urged the group to support federal judicial reforms now before Congress to limit the amount of appeals in death-penalty cases.
"I am a supporter of capital punishment, but I wonder if it is effective the way it is administered," said Bangerter.
While the lengthy appellate process is primarily a federal courts issue, frustration is most frequently misdirected at a state court level. Most people do not understand the delay results after death-penalty cases have cleared the state court system, he said.
The commission - comprised of judges, attorneys, educators and civic leaders - is developing policies to guide Utah's judiciary into the next century. At the two-day conference, the group is implementing changes to reflect what Utahns say they expect from their justice system.
Even though appellate delay is the foremost complaint, Bangerter acknowledged that delay at the state level essentially "doesn't exist." The governor congratulated the judiciary for eradicating a backlog of appellate cases that had once reached a crisis stage.
"Appellate delay is now just a bad memory," Bangerter said.
Before he was governor, Bangerter was involved as a legislator promoting new laws that enhanced the status of the judiciary and allowed the courts to manage their own affairs.
As governor, he appointed the task force that created legislation for the Utah Court of Appeals. This new court has earned widespread praise in its efficiency, Bangerter said.
The governor identified the greatest challenge facing the judiciary in the 21st century as "the accessibility of the average citizen to the court system at a reasonable cost."
"If this affordability issue is not addressed, the average person will effectively lose access to one of the branches of government," he said.
He further urged the judiciary to monitor itself by conducting rigid judicial evaluations and then passing on relevant information to the public to decide whether judges should be retained.
"A strong judicial branch strengthens all of state government and society as a whole," he said.
Improving the system
Gov. Bangerter's recommendations:
-Limit appeals in death-penalty cases.
-Consolidate court facilities and services.
-Increased dispute resolutions outside the courtroom.
-Simplify the court process.
-Reduce costs to average citizen.