In remarks made at his swearing-in ceremony Monday, new Chief Justice Michael Zimmerman stressed the importance of the judiciary's independence.

A strong, independent judiciary is essential to the separation of powers doctrine the U.S. Constitution was built on, Zimmerman said.Utah's judiciary must be open to change and needs to "ward off inadvertent encroachments by other branches of government made in the name of reform," Zimmerman said.

His remarks come in the wake of recent controversy over the way judges are appointed in Utah. Gov. Mike Leavitt and key Republican legislators have expressed dissatisfaction with the process, saying Leavitt should have more say in picking judges.

Some Democrats have called that criticism a move by Republicans to control the judiciary.

Zimmerman vowed to strengthen the judiciary branch and continue the rapid progress started under the leadership of former Chief Justice Gordon Hall.

He plans to work for better communication and understanding with legislators and Leavitt. Friction between the three branches of government is not productive, Zimmerman said.

"The judiciary is an independent branch of government, and by design the least powerful and, in Utah, the least political branch. But all three branches must work together. A failure to understand each other is almost certain to produce unnecessary friction. Friction that is likely to result in heat, rather than light. This is something that we have a mutual obligation to avoid in the interest of more credible and effective government."

Leavitt did not attend the 11 a.m. ceremony in the rotunda of the Capitol Building. He was in meetings at his office at the time.

Leavitt spokeswoman Vicki Varela said Leavitt didn't attend because his staff failed to tell him he had been invited. An invitation was sent to Leavitt's office, but though a staff mix-up, it was not passed on to Leavitt, she said.

"The governor didn't know about it until after it was over. If the governor had known about it, he would have changed his schedule to be there."

Hall's retirement last month marks the first time in 12 years Utah has had a new chief justice. Many people believe Zimmerman's election marks a point of change for the court, Zimmerman said. But Zimmerman saw his appointment as "an affirmation of continuity."

Zimmerman outlined the dramatic change in Utah's judiciary since 1984. "I find little about that course to criticize and much that deserves high praise."

Other speakers at the ceremony referred to tension in government over the appointment of judges. Appeals Court Judge Pamela Green-wood suggested Zimmer-man's first official act should be to hire a public relations firm for the judiciary. State Court administrator Ron Gibson said the media had put too much emphasis on the tension.

Zimmerman's voice broke when he thanked his seriously ill wife, Lynne, for her support.

"I can say with certainty that but for Lynne, I would not be standing here today. Whatever good I achieve during my tenure as chief justice will be largely attributable to what I have learned from Lynne." Zimmerman's wife suffers from cancer.

Justice I. Daniel Stewart was sworn in as associate chief justice.