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Panel OKs judgeship nominee

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The Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee on Friday voted unanimously to recommend that Wasatch County Attorney Derek Pullan fill one of two vacancies on the 4th District Court bench.

Pullan's name will now be sent to the full Senate for confirmation.

Questioning of Springville attorney Randy Kester, tapped to fill the second empty seat, was delayed until Sept. 12 to allow the committee time to seek additional information.

The continuance was announced by committee chairman Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, following a closed session discussing the "character and professional competence" of the candidate. Committee staff members would not elaborate further on the contents of the discussion.

During the three-hour hearing, senators questioned both men on topics such as the death penalty, gun control and same-sex marriage. Both responded that despite their personal feelings on the controversial issues, they would uphold the constitutions of state and the country, and the wishes of the Legislature.

The two men have been approved by Gov. Mike Leavitt to fill vacancies left by Ray Harding Jr., who pleaded guilty earlier this year to drug possession, and the retirement of Judge Guy Burningham.

Although Harding's problems weren't directly mentioned in Friday's hearing, Sen. Gregory Bell, R-Farmington, asked Pullan how he believed a judge should behave in his private life.

The two-term county attorney responded that judges need to be above reproach at all times. "The robe never comes off, and I think that needs to be kept certainly in the forefront of a judge's mind."

Pullan's age and experience also came into question Friday. At 36, Pullan admitted he's young but said he has practiced law for the past 10 years and assured senators that he's a "quick study."

Pullan graduated from Brigham Young University's law school in 1993. Kester, a private attorney, also graduated from BYU in 1984.

E-mail: awelling@desnews.com