Patrick Lambert says most people who come to court fall into one of three categories: “They’re mad as hell, they’re embarrassed to death or they’re scared to death.”
Lambert has seen plenty of folks in all three categories. He’s been a justice court judge for 39 years, arbiter of thousands of misdemeanor and infraction cases in several courtrooms around Weber County.
At 72, he’s decided it’s time to call it a career. Friday, July 23, will be his last day. Officials are looking for one or more replacements for him to take over the justice courts in North Ogden, Pleasant View, Farr West, Washington Terrace-Marriott-Slaterville and Uintah-Huntsville.
Utah’s justice courts handle class B and C misdemeanors and infractions. Lambert said the most common cases in his courts have been DUIs, domestic violence, retail thefts and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Over the years, he has nurtured an attitude, and passed it along to staff members, to decently treat people who find themselves in what can be an intimidating environment with consequences to be meted out.
“People make mistakes,” he said. “Everybody has worth and everybody is worthwhile. We are not there to demean people in a court setting — there is just no place for that. We treat people with respect.”
Lambert’s father was a professional baseball player who came to Utah as a member of the Ogden Reds in the 1950s. Lambert is an Ogden native who went to Weber High School and Weber State, then worked in adult and juvenile corrections, the work there including assisting in disciplinary hearings, and revocation hearings for the Board of Pardons.
He was named a judge in 1982.
“I was one of the younger judges and now I’m one of the older judges,” said Lambert, of North Ogden. “That’s the way of things.”
While presiding over five courts covering seven cities or towns, “I keep close to a calendar,” Lambert said.
During the pandemic, most justice court proceedings moved onto the Webex online platform as the state sought to minimize COVID-19 spread while continuing court operations.
He said adoption of the online platform was not overly difficult, but it’s not the same as being in the courtroom. “There’s not the same personal touch,” he said, and participants miss out on “the verbal cues you get meeting with people.”
Lambert said his job has grown more complex and demanding with community growth and increased caseloads. “It’s been a lot of pressure and more and more all the time,” he said, adding that many criminal cases are very complicated. Traffic-related cases have boomed too, he said, “the roads and highways never designed for the amount of traffic they’re getting.”
Lambert said like many other judges, he gets letters expressing thanks for helping people turn their lives around. They’re often people or their loved ones in an addiction situation.
“It supports the idea that we do make a difference,” Lambert said, although disappointments leave an impression too.
He recalled a case where the defendant had been given a chance at “every program there was” to overcome substance abuse. At a review hearing, the man told Lambert he had “found a purpose to live and a reason to get up and do things every day.” Lambert said he asked what purpose, and the man replied that he had discovered methamphetamine. “He was dead two months later,” the judge said.
Lambert said he takes pride in his role in a local 24-7 sobriety program that focuses on second-time DUI offenders.
“It is very, very strict,” he said. “We give them the option of complying with all of the requirements, for treatment, interlock devices, community service hours.” The participants must report to the Weber County Jail every morning and evening to take a blood alcohol breath test.
The carrot for the offenders is that during the rigorous program of a year to 18 months, they are allowed to retain their driving privileges.
“We have just had incredible results,” Lambert said.
He said numerous programs have had the same goals ever since he’s been a judge, but this one actually stops “the revolving door” of chronic DUI.
“This is a huge opportunity for people to maintain their jobs,” he said. One program graduate wrote the court that the 24-7 regimen “changed my life. I don’t drink anymore.”
As for those angry, embarrassed or frightened people who come to court, Lambert said judges understand that “we are not there as a friend, but as a neutral party who will listen to what they have to say. We want it to be a very safe environment that protects the rights” of both suspects and victims.
North Ogden City is hosting a retirement open house for Lambert from 2-4 p.m. Thursday, July 29, in the city council room, 505 E. 2600 North.