Nothing destroys confidence in the judicial system faster than going to court and finding the judge is Chief Wiggum. City justice courts handle most crimes in Utah but too often are headed by judges with questionable legal knowledge or by close buddies of city mayors—who appoint judges and whose city coffers depend on a judge finding defendants guilty and imposing hefty fines. A just-released reform plan from the Utah Judicial Council would require judges have at least a bachelor’s degree and make them state, not city, employees, selected by an expert panel. Those are good first steps that, unfortunately, do not need to be fully implemented until 2016. The plan is open for public comment before it is sent to the Legislature next year.
When Utah’s Legislature OKed $35 million in taxes to help Real Salt Lake build a stadium, the idea was for tax money to be used for public improvements. Real Salt Lake would be on its own to finance moneymaking hotels and shops on adjacent property. But it didn’t take long for proposals to siphon tax money into the private ventures. Sandy City proposed to buy land next to the stadium from Real, then turn around and “gift” the land back to the company. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. snuffed the deal, saying the public money should be used for public parking. A nice catch. But he, and the rest of the public, will want to keep an eye out for the next round of creative financing.
Utah lawmakers understand water rustlin’, and they’re in a fighting mood over plans by Las Vegas to drill for water just west of Utah’s border. The Legislature’s natural resources committee recently penned a letter asking for $6 million to fund a study of ground water beneath the Utah-Nevada border. Noting Las Vegas pumping could deplete the water table in Utah, Utah lawmakers fear a mass die-off of desert vegetation, sending dust clouds to Salt Lake City. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has indicated support for the study, had better strap his spurs on. Las Vegas water officials have reacted by threatening Utah water-development projects, and the federal fight will mean taking on Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate.