Weber County legislator wants to restructure Utah court system

Feb 16 2014 - 8:21am


SALT LAKE CITY -- A Weber County legislator wants to change the structure of Utah's courts, simplifying them at the most basic level.

Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, has introduced two pieces of legislation during the 2014 session that focus on a potential court restructuring.  

One bill, HB 319, calls for a new lower court where tickets and citations would be dealt with, potentially by non-law-trained judges. The new court would have limited jurisdiction and free up justice courts to deal with misdemeanors and family law issues, Peterson said.

The bill also calls for the appointment of circuit court judges in the same manner as district court judges. 

The estimated cost for establishing the new court system is $46 million, according to a fiscal note attached to the legislation. Given the state's financial status, even Peterson admits it has a meager chance of being implemented.

His second piece of legislation, HB 336, would set up a court system task force to study potential modifications. Peterson said that is the direction the state really needs to go in looking at restructuring its court system.

"We want to come up with holistic and well-thought-out solutions," he said.

Peterson is not an attorney, but he served on a judiciary interim committee, where he initiated discussion of a task force of 15 members, including six state lawmakers, representatives from the legal community, one representative from the Utah League of Cities and Towns and one civilian.  

Since that time, he has met with the Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, of the Utah Supreme Court, and with the Judicial Liaison Committee to discuss the merits of the task force bill. He said he addressed concerns the judiciary had with the legislation.

"Although we may not see perfectly eye to eye on the subject, I believe we understand each other's concerns, and I will be modifying my bill to include additional members of the judiciary to the task force and closing some open-ended language in the bill to allay their worries," Peterson wrote in his blog.

With HB 336, he has significantly modified the proposed makeup of the group. The new group would include the chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court, or someone designated by the court, and the Utah attorney general, or a designee, as well as the executive director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

The director of the Utah Prosecution Council, or the director's designee, would also be on the task force.

Political members of the task force would include two members of the Senate, appointed by the president of the Senate, and four members of the House, appointed by the speaker of the House.

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