Ex-politico gets judicial nod
April 24, 2009
Summit County officials have named Shauna Kerr as the area’s judge over most misdemeanor crimes, putting the former elected official in a position that will have her deciding the fate of people like drunken drivers, speeders and disorderly bar patrons.
"For the majority of citizens, justice courts are where their interaction with the third branch of government occurs," Assistant State Court Administrator Richard Schwermer said. "It’s very important … [Kerr] is the person who is the representative of the third branch of government, and that’s part of what we want to be sure we instill in new judges."
Kerr insists she is up for the challenge.
"Many folks are there because it was bad judgment or alleged bad judgment that brought them there, not real criminal behaviors. But for some it’s the start of a real criminal career," Kerr said about the court.
Justice courts statewide saw about 700,000 filings in 2008. About 200,000 cases were filed in district courts in Utah, which process civil lawsuits, divorces and more serious crimes.
"I understand that sometimes we all behave like knuckleheads and we may find ourselves there," Kerr said. "It’s not because we’re bad people, we just had some bad behaviors. And I think I will very fairly recognize that."
Recommended Stories For You
However, she won’t tolerate repeat offenders, Kerr stressed.
"Those whose names, whose dates of birth become familiar because they’re returning to the court, that’s going to cause me some concern, and I think I am going to be considered very firm in dealing with folks who fail to get it."
An attorney, she lives in Park City and is an ex-Summit County Commissioner and Park City councilwoman. The judicial appointment prevents Kerr from campaigning for public office.
"A judge becomes a very apolitical creature. I have been a political creature, but I think all creatures become tired of themselves at some point," she joked.
Her political posts, however, forced her to make difficult decisions that weren’t always popular, Kerr said.
"I wasn’t uncomfortable being the dissenting vote," Kerr said. "But as the judge, you are the judge, as opposed to being one of three votes, or one of five votes."
Most defendants at a recent Justice Court session she attended in the Snyderville Basin were Spanish speakers needing interpreters, Kerr said.
"That was when reality really hit me," she said. "I will make sure, to the greatest extent possible, that we can ensure those translations are accurate."
And most Justice Court defendants represent themselves.
"There is an additional responsibility of education and clear explanation to defendants when they come before the court without counsel," Kerr said. "Fairness dictates that someone understands. How can we be fair if someone didn’t understand?"
She must pass a five-day training course in May before the Utah Judicial Council certifies Kerr to the bench. Among about 45 candidates she beat out for the position were finalists Gus Chin, a former Summit County prosecutor, and Taylorsville Justice Court Judge Marsha Thomas.
Kerr, a Democrat, was nominated for the post by interim Summit County Manager Brian Bellamy, which the mostly Democratic County Council upheld Wednesday.
"There were no politics based in this at all," Bellamy said. "Shauna is smart. She is very smart. And we need a leader to help us do different things, to help us do new things. We’ve got a great court there, but there are always ways to make it just a little bit better."