Senate confirmation of Judge Robert K. Hilder to Utah's appellate court was put off Friday after a passionate father testified before the Senate judicial confirmation committee.
David Turner told the five-member committee about the problems his daughter, Natalie Turner, had in Hilder's courtroom during a divorce and custody battle that lasted for three years. The case ended abruptly when Natalie Turner pulled a gun on police and was shot and killed.
The case was unfairly delayed and Hilder's orders were unclear, causing months of legal wrangling, David Turner said. The father also took issue with the lack of a child-custody order during the three-year case, among other things.
The well-respected judge agreed that his ruling had been unclear but defended his judgment before pledging to meet with the Turner family to discuss how their situation could have been made better. He also mentioned that he has been an advocate of reforms that would move family law cases through the system more quickly.
"I pledge to you and the citizens of Utah my service and the commitment to learn from my mistakes," Hilder said. "You vote your conscience, and I will serve wherever I get to serve."
The motion to delay recommending Hilder to the full Senate was made by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who questioned the judge on procedural elements of the case.
In addition to the Turner testimony, four attorneys testified at Friday's meeting. Each spoke very highly of Hilder, praising his work ethic, compassion and legal mind.
"He is the hardest-working and most sincere, with a judicial temperament that those of us who practice day-in-and-day-out would be honored to have on the appellate court," Gordon Strong said.
Hilder was appointed to the 3rd District Court in 1995 after working as an attorney in Salt Lake City. The Australia native has heard more than 500 cases over the years and thousands of motions and settlements.
Notably, Hilder ruled in favor of the University of Utah over a ban on guns in 2003. Ultimately, the Statestate Legislature passed a law that made the decision moot.
Hilder also sentenced a man named Paul Wayment to a short jail term after Wayment's son died from the cold during a hunting trip. Wayment committed suicide before serving any time, and the case drew national attention.
Though committee members decided to think over the decision of recommendation, they praised Hilder for his service, his almost-spotless record and a reputation that is almost unanimously applauded.
"You are a wonderful judge, but we've heard some things here that give us some pause," said committee chairman Gregory S. Bell, R-Fruit Heights.
Committee members will again consider recommending approval of Hilder on Wednesday at 9 a.m. Either way, Hilder's confirmation will then move to the full Senate during a special legislative session Nov. 19.
Also Friday, the committee voted unanimously to recommend Marvin Bagley to Utah's 6th District Court after advising him to use summary judgments liberally.