Utah courts overhaul bill morphs into task force study bill

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would create a new layer of courts in Utah’s judiciary met opposition in committee, and a substitute bill that would create a task force to study the issue moves forward.

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Utah’s Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City houses a district court and the Utah Supreme Court. (Photo from Utah State Courts)

Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, presented HB336 Tuesday, Feb. 18, which would have created a “middle court” specifically handling misdemeanors and family law. Peterson said the new court would also help bridge the gap between Utah’s justice courts and the district courts.

However, Peterson’s plan meant drastic changes to the court system, and he faced opposition in committee. A compromise HB336 first substitute would create a task force to discuss court modifications and suggest policy recommendations to the Legislature.

“The task force is like a big suggestion box, coming out of that suggestion box. We’ll create bills that will modify or make changes to the court system, but the key is that the court system will be in the task force helping us discuss that,” Peterson said. “Hopefully, the policy recommendations we get will be based on their input as well so that everyone on board can say, ‘Hey, this is the best solution.’”

The task force will be made up of 19 representatives from different stakeholders, such as the Utah Supreme Court, district courts, justice courts and juvenile courts. Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, expressed his support of the state courts system and the bill as a whole.

“I do think much of what we’ve heard reported about the courts outreach and ability to serve the public is accurate … having said that, there is value in the process for the people to know that on a regular basis programs, including the courts, are subject to review, and I think this is a good time,” Snow said.

Peterson said the bill is not a “witch hunt” but rather an opportunity to do a physical fitness exam on the health of the court system. The bill promotes increased cooperation not only between the court systems but also between the legislative and judicial branches.

“I hope that we really make some significant progress based on this task force, if (the bill) is passed through the entire Legislature,” said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake.

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