Views from the Bench, 0620 UTBJ, Vol. 33, No. 3. 12

AuthorBy The Honorable Paul Curtis Farr.
PositionVol. 33 3 Pg. 12

Views from the Bench

Vol. 33 No. 3 Pg. 12

Utah Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

An Introduction to the Utah Judicial Council Justice Court Reform Task Force

By The Honorable Paul Curtis Farr.

INTRODUCTION

In December 2019 the Utah Supreme Court and Utah Judicial Council created a task force that will be evaluating potential improvements and reforms to the justice court system. The task force will move forward under the direction of the Judicial Council, which has asked that I serve as chair. The purpose of this article is to orient the Bar to the background, creation, and work of the task force.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF JUSTICE COURTS

Justices of the peace existed in England since the mid-1300s. They were locally appointed or elected judicial officers, often without formal legal training. This institution was brought to America with the English settlers and continued through the twentieth century in the states. While large cities, primarily in the east, gave rise to law schools and organized judicial systems, the justice of the peace was the only judicial officer some settlers in the American West would know.

Justices of the peace were first recognized in Utah in 1850 when the United States Congress authorized the Utah Territory. This included the creation of federal courts, as well as local justices of the peace. Later, in 1896, when Utah was admitted to statehood, the Utah Constitution included a provision that required, “Courts not of record shall be established by statute.” Utah Const. Art. VIII, § 1. The justice of the peace institution continued and fulfilled this requirement for courts not of record.

The justice of the peace system suffered from some defects. As an example, one of the most famous (or infamous) justices of the peace was Judge Roy Bean. He was appointed in 1882 in Pecos County, Texas. Judge Bean had no legal training other than perhaps his escape from jail following a duel with a man in California. Judge Bean opened a saloon that also doubled as the courtroom. It has been reported that a beer in that saloon cost $0.25. If a patron paid with $1, they didn’t get any change. If the person complained, Judge Bean charged them with disturbing the peace, which carried an associated fine of $0.75. Of course Judge Bean kept the fine proceeds.

The justice of the peace system has evolved since the time of Judge Roy Bean. Some states have abandoned the justice of the peace system while some have modified it. In Utah the system has evolved significantly over time, with the largest changes beginning in 1989.

In 1989, legislation was passed that officially did away with the “justice of the peace” in Utah. In its place, the state...

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