Ogden's presiding judge retires after nearly 34 years on the bench

Tuesday , January 02, 2018 - 5:15 AM

JACOB SCHOLL, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — If you want to know how W. Brent West has always felt about working in law, just ask his wife. 

Right before the holidays, West’s wife, Judy, mentioned that in the nearly 34 years he’s been a judge, she never once heard him complain about going to work.

But even so, he said he’s still looking forward to spending more time with his three grandchildren during his retirement. 

After almost three and a half decades of dealing with crimes, marriages, adoptions and other court proceedings, the presiding judge over Utah’s 2nd District Court is hanging up his robe. 

West’s last day was Friday, Dec. 29, which closed the book on his lengthy career as an attorney, prosecutor and judge. 

“I have enjoyed my job,” West said “I don’t know how the rest of the world has thought about it, but I have enjoyed it.” 

PATH TO THE BENCH

West has a number of ties to the Northern Utah region. He was born in the Salt Lake City area and attended Ogden High School. With the exception of a brief time when his family lived in Butte, Montana, and law school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, he’s been a lifelong Utah resident.

After his graduation from law school in 1975, West and Judy made quick work of returning to the Beehive State.

“My wife hated the Texas heat, and so we came back to Utah,” West said with a laugh. 

After working in private practice for three years, he became a part-time prosecutor for Ogden City, then became chief prosecutor for Ogden City.

In 1984, West was faced with a decision: run for Weber County Attorney or apply to be a circuit court judge. 

The application for the judgeship came first, and West said if he got passed over for that, he could always pursue a career in politics.

But he got the job and his tenure as a judge began in March of that year.

“And the rest is history,” West said. 

OUTSIDE THE COURT

Being the presiding judge of a Utah court takes an enormous amount of focus, which seems to be the common denominator in West’s favorite things to do. Whenever he wasn’t in court, he was playing golf or bridge, West says. West is president of a local bridge club chapter. 

He enjoys hitting the links whenever he can, and he particularly enjoys golfing with his grandson, Dawson. 

In addition to being an avid golfer, he’s also an avid football fan. When he was younger, he wanted to be either a football coach or a lawyer. He chose the path of a lawyer when he found out how often football coaches get fired, he says. 

While many Utahns bleed Cougar blue, West says he prefers the darker hue of the Dallas Cowboys or Utah Ute red. 

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THOUGHTS FROM THE BENCH

In one of his final days as a judge, West ruled to send Kyle Yepez, a West Haven resident who pleaded guilty to his role in a fatal 2016 car crash, to prison.

When the time came for a sentence to be issued, West said in his 34-year career, this is one weighed heavily on his mind.

RELATED: Family forgives, judge sentences driver who killed Weber State employee

“This is one of the saddest cases I’ve ever had before me,” West told the courtroom. 

The following day, West said cases involving death — such as the Yepez case — are the type of decisions that stick with him.

West also named a handful of homicide cases in particular that have stayed with him. One such case involved an Ogden man, Jacob Ethridge, whom West gave two consecutive life sentences for killing two Ogden women in 2008.

However, West says the high-profile cases like that of Ethridge’s normally aren’t difficult to decide. It’s the “regular, everyday cases” that are troubling, he says. 

“Those are the hard decisions, figuring out the perfect blend of punishment and rehabilitation,” West said. 

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WHAT’S NEXT

West said he is confident in the direction the Utah justice system is heading going forward. In particular, the people. 

He praised Gov. Gary Herbert’s decision to appoint Camille Neider to replace him on the bench. Neider was announced as the new 2nd District Court judge on Nov. 17, according to Anna Lehnardt, public information officer for the Governor’s Office.

“I think the judiciary will be in good hands,” West said. 

However, there are some aspects that have room for improvement. 

West said the 2015 Justice Reinvestment Initiative, more commonly known as the JRI, is a “mixed bag” that contains rules that are beneficial to some and too lenient for others. 

He said he believes the JRI works for those who suffer from addiction works in a positive way, but he does not believe the system adequately prosecutes career criminals or those convicted of violent crimes. 

West doesn’t plan on stopping cold turkey when it comes to working. 

Although he’ll have his hands full with three grandkids — whom he calls “big trouble,” “little trouble” and “double trouble” — West plans on doing mediation a few days a week with Morgan County Second District Court Clerk Pamela Allen in addition to facilitating a wedding or two. 

And yes, he also plans on playing quite a bit of bridge and golf. 

Contact reporter Jacob Scholl at jscholl@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Scholl.

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