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Utah's first female Supreme Court justice to retire

Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham announced Tuesday, May 2, 2017, that she will retire in November after 35 years on the bench.
Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham announced Tuesday, May 2, 2017, that she will retire in November after 35 years on the bench.
Utah Courts

SALT LAKE CITY — The first woman to become a justice on Utah's highest court — and to be elected its chief — announced Tuesday she will retire later this year.

Justice Christine Durham said in a letter to Gov. Gary Herbert that she will step down from the Utah Supreme Court in November after 35 years.

Durham joined the court in 1982, after being appointed by then-Gov. Scott Matheson. She became chief justice 20 years later and stepped down from that role in 2012.

Durham is recognized as one of the top legal minds in the nation, according to her colleagues. An emeritus member of the American Law Institute, she has had a hand in crafting uniform laws used as models for state statutes nationwide.

And in 1993, she was believed to be a contender for a Clinton administration nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, a job that went to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But Durham now is reflecting on a long career in Utah.

“My service on the bench has been a privilege and a joy," she said in a prepared statement. "It will be hard to leave all of the fine judges and wonderful staff with whom I have worked."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant said Durham “is a brilliant jurist, a wonderful colleague and a truly remarkable human being."

Durrant said Durham inspires lawyers and judges across the country, and she has been instrumental in building a court system in Utah that has become a national model.

Throughout her legal career, Durham sought to educate judges and everyday Utahns. She also worked with state education officers to pass legislation that put civics and government into Utah's core curriculum.

And Durham has participated in programs around the country to create lessons for new judges and standardize practices. No such handbook existed when she began her career on the bench.

The justice earned her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and a law degree from Duke University, then was a judge in state court before going into private practice.

Durham's worldview is broad: She spent her early years in California and Washington, D.C., then at 14 moved with her family to France before returning stateside for college. Her father was a U.S. Treasury Department officer stationed in Paris.

Durham has held leadership positions at the Conference of Chief Justices of the United States and the American Bar Association’s executive committee, as well as the Association of Women Judges, among several other judicial organizations. She also has won numerous awards for her work in justice reform and accountability.

Her last day on the bench will be Nov. 16.