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His confirmation ‘up in the air,’ judge says

A Utah Court of Appeals nominee who resides in Silver Springs was grilled by state senators at a judicial confirmation hearing Friday.

Today the hearing is slated to continue on Capitol Hill after 3rd District Court Judge Robert Hilder was in front of panel members for nearly four hours last week. Hilder reportedly sat behind closed doors with the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee for about 40 minutes.

"He was very straightforward," Democrat Sen. Mike Dmitrich said in a telephone interview.

Hilder was asked about his handling of a child custody case in Summit County that ended with the shooting death of Natalie Turner Aug. 8, 2003.

"That was a really sad situation and if you’re pointing fingers, you’ve got to point of lot of fingers on that," Dmitrich said.

David Turner, the woman’s father, blames the death of his daughter on decisions Hilder made in the bitter custody battle.

Turner was shot to death by police after allegedly shooting her ex-husband at his Wasatch County home and fleeing with the injured man and her boyfriend on State Road 248.

But Hilder set into motion the deadly chain of events by ordering his daughter to return to Utah from where she was living in Idaho to maintain custody of her two young children, Turner said.

"The law is very clear and Judge Hilder had no right to do that," Turner said in a telephone interview.

One day before her death his daughter was ordered by 3rd District Court Judge Bruce Lubeck, who inherited the case from Hilder, to move back to Utah or be found in contempt of court, Turner said.

After the chase that night, investigators claim a wounded Natalie Turner stepped out of the car, pointed a gun at officers and pulled the trigger.

A deputy then shot and killed the 31-year-old woman.

"Our question is, is this really the best person to tell other judges how they’re supposed to rule?" Turner said. "If these five senators and the Senate of Utah feel like this is the best person for this job, then we can live with that. But if somebody acts in such an egregious manner that laws are consistently broken over time and the safety and well being of children are ignored, and people die, is this really the person to represent women and children in an appeals court process?"

If not for Hilder’s flawed rulings, Turner said his daughter would likely be alive.

"What difference does it make? Natalie’s dead and the children don’t have their mother," Turner said about an offer from Hilder to meet with his family.

Meanwhile, a decision from Hilder about five years ago that upheld the right of the University of Utah to ban firearms on campus upset Republican Sen. Michael Waddoups, a member of the confirmation committee.

Lawmakers later passed legislation which made it clear only the Legislature can make gun policies in the state.

"The hearing’s not over so I can’t say how I would vote (on Hilder’s nomination)," Waddoups said when reached Tuesday.

Most testimony at the hearing Friday concerned the Turner case, Waddoups explained.

"It weighs with all of the other things that we talked about," Waddoups said about the case. "Some of it was very positive about him and other reports were very anti-Judge Hilder."

Committee members are expected to vote on his confirmation today, Hilder said.

"I believe I did respond, but obviously there were questions and they’re considering them," said Hilder, who adjudicates roughly 20 percent of the civil lawsuits filed in Summit County.

Should the committee recommend him for the post, Hilder said the full Senate must still vote whether to confirm his Court of Appeals appointment by Nov. 21.

"I’m up in the air," Hilder said in a telephone interview. "I don’t know anymore than you where it’s going."

"After more than 13 years as a trial judge, I think I’ve got some things to take to the bench," he added.


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