Tribute to Chief Justice Durham: the "special responsibility" of lawyers and judges.

Author:Fordham, Brigham
Position:Chief Judge Lawrence H. Cooke Sixth Annual State Constitutional Commentary Symposium: The State of State Courts - Testimonial

Just a few weeks after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I started my job as a law clerk for Justice Christine M. Durham of the Utah Supreme Court. (1) It was a time of great sadness and anxiety. Everywhere I went people were talking about the threat to the American way of life. There was talk that the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City might be cancelled due to security concerns. People were angry and scared.

I do not remember the substance of my conversations with Justice Durham about the terrorist attacks. What I do remember, and what impresses me to this day, is the approach to justice that prevailed in her chambers. At that time of insecurity and defensiveness, I was struck by Justice Durham's openness to other perspectives, her commitment to doing what is right, and her faith that humanity can prevail over lawlessness.

As a young lawyer, I learned much of value from working with Justice Durham. More than ten years later, I view Chief Justice Durham as one of the great teachers and leaders of our time. In a profession long mired by elitism and exclusion, Justice Durham has been a fearless promoter of education and inclusion.

When I began my clerkship, I was surprised by the way Justice Durham interacted with her law clerks. Despite her extensive legal expertise and our comparative naivete, Justice Durham showed a sincere interest in hearing our thoughts about matters pending before the court. Rather than characterizing herself as the expert and us as the unlearned pupils, Justice Durham found value in the diversity of perspectives. The discipline Justice Durham showed--being able to fully hear others' viewpoints while simultaneously challenging them to reach deeper--is, in my view, the quintessential trait of a good teacher.

Perhaps Justice Durham's most influential work as an educator comes not from any formal program or work with an organization but from her example as a leader and role model. As others have often noted, Justice Durham is a trailblazer for women in the law. She went to law school at a time when woman lawyers were few and succeeded as a litigator and law professor in a profession dominated by men. She went on to be the first female judge in Utah, the first woman appointed to the state supreme court, and the first woman to be chief justice of that court. The story of her journey through law school, law practice, and appointment to the bench shows the triumph of courage and persistence over ignorance and...

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