Several items in the media have recently focused attention on the manner by which Third District Court Judge David S. Young has rendered decisions and otherwise conducted proceedings regarding women's interests in connection with the discharge of his duties as a sitting trial judge in Salt Lake City and Park City. I do not claim to be fully informed regarding the specifics of the individual cases giving rise to criticism, except to the extent that such criticism unfairly places him in the awkward position of being incapable of defending himself in an emotionally charged public forum.
I do not wish to express any views on the criticism of Judge Young, but I feel obligated to bring to your attention the difficult situation this poses for judges who are publicly criticized because they have no forum for their defense. This is basically unfair although we do recognize the peoples' right to "free speech."Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which binds Judge Young, and all judges, states that a "judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court." It has appropriately been against judicial policy for judges to try cases in the press and also for judges and attorneys to resort to inappropriate public comment regarding those cases.
Jurors, parties and witnesses may understandably be frustrated with the workings of the system and the decisions rendered in their individual cases, and are entitled to vocalize those frustrations. Attorneys and judges are held to a different standard. Accordingly, Judge Young is not in a position to respond publicly or counter these recent criticisms in the media.
Complaints against judges are effectively dealt with by the Judicial Commission under the supervision of the Utah Judicial Council. Judges are then provided an appropriate forum to respond to these types of complaints. Those hearings are confidential and complaining parties, including attorneys, have no fear of backlash or repercussions should they choose to participate.
Utah's Constitution provides for two courts, the Utah Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, to consider claims that a judge has erred. Complaints in these individual cases and arguments belong, and may even be filed, in one or both of those courts. If judges err, and being human they certainly can and sometimes do, the appellate processes are set up and entrusted to correct them.
Regardless of the merits of the individual criticisms of Judge Young, it is unfair that he is being tried in the press while he is incapable of legally defending himself. It is also probably a fact that people criticizing judges understand that there are processes available to them for their complaints, but they unfairly resort to a forum of public opinion while they understand the particular judge is unable to defend him or herself.
Paul T. Moxley
President, Utah State Bar