Appeals court comes to Emery County
The Utah Court of Appeals periodically holds court sessions in other locations to enhance the public's understanding of the court's work and to provide the public with an opportunity to see the Court of Appeals in session. The court traveled to Castle Dale to hear two cases on Oct. 14. The court was in session at the Emery County court house. There were many interested observers as well as students and teachers from USU Eastern who are involved and taking classes specific to law and justice. The Utah Court of Appeals Judges who requested to come to Castle Dale included Honorable Gregory K. Orme, Honorable Stephen L. Roth and Honorable Michele M. Christiansen.
Judge Orme went over the protocol to be followed for the proceedings. Each side would have 15 minutes for oral arguments.
The first case was CCW Ranch LLC v. Nielsen, 20090776-SC
This case involves a dispute regarding fencing along a boundary shared by adjoining land owners in Emery County. The trial court concluded that the parties had entered into an oral agreement, which governed the rights of the land owners. The court concluded that each owner agreed to build and pay for a portion of the fencing. As a result, the court did not award reimbursement to either party for fence construction, and the trial court determined that the quality of the fence was adequate. The court also allocated responsibility for the costs of future fence maintenance. On appeal, the Utah Court of Appeals must first decide whether it can consider the issues raised on appeal, given the rule that appellate courts will not resolve issues raised for the first time on appeal. The issues for the Court of Appeals center on whether the oral agreement was enforceable, whether the agreement was breached, and whether the trial court should have ordered that a portion of the expenses for initial fence construction be shared. The Court of Appeals has also been asked to decide whether the trial court properly interpreted a state statute dealing with the allocation of costs for future fence maintenance.
The second case heard was Hyatt v. Wilberg. The case arises out of an oral agreement Plaintiff Ross Wilberg alleges he entered into with his grandfather, Defendant Albert C. Hyatt, to convey the Rock Canyon Ranch, located in Emery County, Utah, to Wilberg upon Hyatt's death. The dispute also involves Wilberg's use of federal grant funding to install an irrigation system on the ranch. Shortly after the irrigation system was installed, Hyatt sold the ranch to Defendant Clyde Magnuson. Wilberg sued Hyatt for breach of contract and unjust enrichment and sued Magnuson for trespass and waste. Wilberg now appeals the district court's partial summary judgment dismissing all claims against Magnuson and dismissing the breach of contract claim against Hyatt, alleging that the district court improperly applied the standards of summary judgment. In particular, Wilberg challenges the district court's determination that the alleged oral contract between him and Hyatt was unenforceable because it lacked the Aclear, definite, and concise terms and performance that must be shown to prove the existence of an oral contract. Wilberg also argues that, in ruling against him on his unjust enrichment claim, the district court erred in construing the legal requirements for unjust enrichment.
Judge Orme said the oral arguments presented on this day were in answer to the questions which the defendants felt were left unanswered in the jury trial. The judges answered questions from the audience about the proceedings and about being a judge in general.
He said the judges have spent a lot of time reviewing the briefs on the cases and the trial record as well as addendum items. By the time the case reaches the appeals court, these judges are ready to hear the high points of the arguments as they are familiar with the cases. He said after they have heard the oral arguments they will meet as a judges panel together to go over the case and hopefully reach a unanimous decision. Judge Roth said sometimes they ask questions of the legal counsel, they do this so they can focus in on what the attorneys feel is the heart of the matter and the most important part of the argument.
Judge Christiansen said questions are important as well as making sure you have read the briefs and acquainted yourself with the case in question.
Judge Roth worked at the DAs office. He remembers as a young lawyer working really hard to get ready for a case and feeling very nervous walking into court. Going to court can come with a sense of relief that you've worked hard on a case and now take it to court to get it resolved. He said as a judge he tries to remain neutral and make the best decision he can make on all the information presented in a case. You must put aside your own interests and base the decisions on the facts before you. "Take the law that applies and base it on the facts," said Judge Roth. He said how impressed he is with juries, they take their work very seriously and juries make better decisions than judges alone.
Judge Christiansen said she worked as a prosecutor and she loved it. She presented her case facts and did what she thought was best according to her personal opinion. Now she must follow the law, the judges job is harder than being an advocate for a client.
Judge Orme said their appellate court judges panel should be made up of trial judges and non trial judges so there is a balance. The judges spend three days a month in court, but they spend the out of court time reviewing all the cases to be brought before them. Trial court judges are basically chained to their benches because of trial delays and other issues. Sometimes issues are created when lawyers don't do a good job with their briefs. Some cases are more complicated than others and it's frustrating that you don't have enough time to devote to all the cases.
Judge Roth said that as a trial judge you often walked away after a decision and hoped you got it right.
Judge Orme said the three of them will get together to make a decision in the cases heard this day. He finds comfort in numbers and not having to make the decisions on his own. If he misses something then the other two judges will pick it up and vice versa. He finds this shared responsibility allows defendants to have a more informed decision made in their behalf.
Judge Christiansen said as a district court judge, the decision made can be appealed. But, in the appeals courts the decisions made and the consequences of those decisions weighs on her more heavily.
Judge Orme said one other important aspect of their job is the decisions they make in cases will be looked back upon and used for future reference in similar cases. The decisions made can help define statute. The judges were asked if they ever disagree with each other. They answered there are a few cases where a judge will write a separate opinion if they disagree with the other two judges. Their goal said Judge Orme is to write one decision and to be in agreement. If they do disagree they do it respectfully and in a civilized manner.
The question was asked what are the qualifications to be a judge. You must be a Utah resident. You must be a lawyer, be at least 25 and be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. You submit an application and references and will be interviewed for the position.
The judges expressed their appreciation for the court system. The teacher from USU Eastern expressed appreciation to the judges for answering the questions from the students.
Judge Orme congratulated one of the lawyers present this day, Brant Wall who is still practicing law at the age of 92. Wall said he was born in Castle Dale and was also present the first time the appeals court came to Price.