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Justice court judge requirements scaled back

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Potential justice courts judges escaped a move to require them to have 4-year degrees to rule from the bench.

Now all they need is a high school diploma or GED.

The House on Monday amended a bill that would have required justice court judges to have a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college or university.

"What we're looking for and what the people want in a judge at the district court level is a good decision maker," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, the amendment's sponsor. Common sense and integrity are key qualities of a justice court judge, he said.

"That is something you cannot go out and get a school degree on, that is something that comes from within," Noel said.

The bill will now be shipped back to the Senate, since it was amended.

SB72 also requires all justice court judges to be subject to a performance evaluation and retention election, a process state court judges already go through.

The bill is an attempt to clean up the public's perception that the justice court judges are revenue generators subject to the whims of municipal government officials, which Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham said during her January State of the Judiciary speech is "never a proper function for courts as institutions.

"There is, in my view, no more pressing problem of public perception regarding Utah's court system than the justice courts," Durham said in the speech.

Justice courts generated more than $72 million in revenue last year, and are expected to bring in $84 million this year.

The bill also creates a justice court nomination commission and sets salary requirements, as well as a forces the courts to use a case management system and disposition reporting system.

E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com