Raymond S. Uno has decided he's had enough. The 3rd District judge announced Tuesday that he will retire from the bench effective Dec. 31.
Uno, who turns 60 later this year, said the main reason he chose to step down is because of the retirement benefits offered by the Legislature. He has served as a judge for the past 14 1/2 years."It's good to be able to retire young when you're still healthy and can still do many things," he said.
Although has enjoyed serving on the bench, Uno said he has no mixed feelings about retiring.
"There's a lot of stress in it because you make decisions every day," he said, adding that he believes the cases presented in today's courts are far more complicated than they used to be.
"The decisions are getting harder; they're affecting more people and affecting more money," he said. "I have a lot of compassion for the judges that will still be on the bench."
Uno was known for being compassionate - almost to a fault. In a 1987 Deseret News survey of attorneys, Uno ranked the most lenient sentencer.
"He liked to believe in people, and he'd give them probation to give them a chance to turn their lives around by proving themselves," said a deputy Salt Lake County attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Uno attributed his compassion, in part, to his having served in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.
In 1988, while Uno was contemplating a capital murder case, most court observers expected Uno to spare Ralph LeRoy Menzies' life. Uno surprised everyone by handing down a death penalty.
Though well-liked by prosecutors, Uno was not their favorite judge because he had a tendency to allow defense attorneys to prolong cases with motions and continuances.
"He's a nice guy, but he just doesn't take charge," said the prosecutor. "He was too kind to the parties. He let people talk and talk, and he never put an end to it. He had a tough time telling people no."
But Uno said he is proud of his accomplishments and the years of service he has given in the judicial system and said criticism is simply something that he has learned to expect.
"I don't think I could do a better job than I've done. I've really worked hard," the judge said. "I guess my only regret is there will not be a minority on the District Court bench. It's very difficult to get on there."
Critics said Uno also had a tough time dealing with pressure, evidenced by his penchant for sequestering juries. Sequestration - in which a judge houses a jury in a hotel under guard to keep jurors from being influenced by non-judicial sources such as the media - is considered a rare and last-ditch method of ensuring a fair trial.
Uno has sequestered juries twice.
In 1976, while serving as a Salt Lake City Court judge, Uno sequestered a jury in the trial of Rep. Alan Howe, the U.S. congressman who was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police decoy. As a district judge, Uno sequestered a jury in Menzies' March 1988 capital murder trial.
"He would have been a lot better off staying in the Circuit Court, where there's less pressure," said the prosecutor.
Uno was appointed to the Salt Lake Court bench in 1976. He served as Presiding 5th Circuit Court judge in 1978 and was elected to his current District Court position in 1984. Prior to his service on the bench, he was an assistant state attorney general.
Uno has also been a leader in the Japanese-American community. He has served on the Salt Lake-Mat-sumoto City Japan Sister City committee and has coached basketball and soccer teams. He has also been active in the March of Dimes and has played leadership roles in the University of Utah and the U. Law School's Alumni Association.
Uno said he has many plans for retirement but has not yet decided exactly what he will do next. "I've been active in the community before I came on the bench, and I think I'll just pick up where I left off."