Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder succumbs to cancer
The former judge was undergoing chemotherapy treatments
Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder died on Thursday, less than three months after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, according to a Summit County release.
Last month, the county announced Hilder, who was 67, had turned over the duties of his office to Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas while he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Hilder oversaw all criminal matters in the county, including civil work and litigation.
In a statement to The Park Record, John Hilder said his father always “showed you respect and compassion.” He added, “He was the strongest person I’ve ever met.”
“He pushed people to be better than even they thought they could be,” Hilder said. “He believed we’re all good at our core and we inevitably do bad things for a million different reasons, but what defines you is how you handle yourself after you’ve made a mistake.
“He was tough, but fair and smart. Supportive, but never allowing you to rest on your laurels, always pushing you to be better, but never letting you forget how far you’ve come,” he said of how his father parented his four children and two step-brothers.
In 2014, the former 3rd District Court Judge was elected to replace former County Attorney David Brickey, who had ran unopposed as the county attorney for 10 years.
Longtime Park City resident and friend Greg Schirf said he had encouraged Hilder to run because he thought the county’s judicial system needed a change.
“He had such a strong sense of empathy and understanding for the victims and those on trial,” Schirf said. “As a judge, his objective was not to be harsh, but really to get them on the right track instead of just hitting them over the head with the book.”
Schirf attributed Hilder’s belief in rehabilitation to his own troubled upbringing with an alcoholic father and time spent in an orphanage. Hilder emigrated from Sydney, Australia, in 1977, and spent the remainder of his life in Utah.
He earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Utah, working in the judiciary system since he was appointed to the bench in 1995 by Gov. Michael O. Leavitt.
While on the bench, Hilder came under fire from gun rights supporters after he ruled in 2003 the University of Utah could enforce a campus ban on firearms, as previously reported in The Park Record. Concern over that ruling led to the Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee, in a rare move, to reject Hilder’s nomination to the Utah Court of Appeals in 2008.
One of the most unfortunate and high-profile cases Hilder oversaw in Summit County involved the death of a toddler who became lost and died during a hunting expedition. Hilder sentenced the boy’s father, Paul Wayment, to jail for negligent death, but Wayment committed suicide the day he was supposed to turn himself in.
Third District Court Judge Shauna Kerr said Hilder carried himself with “such a regal demeanor” while he sat on the bench. When he became county attorney, she said she was still in awe of him.
“It seemed to be that he empowered his staff and everyone seemed to step up to a new level under his leadership and guidance. He was such an excellent mentor for so many,” Kerr said. “Even though he had a demeanor that could have been very intimidating, he was very warm and embracing.
“He really was one of the kindest men I have ever met and I think he made all of us at the county better,” she said. “I loved when he would tell stories of his youth, I call it the ‘outlaw days’ and his ‘Down Under’ days. He was just a lovely man and there are very few men that I can say were lovely.”
Third District Court Judge and former Summit County prosecutor Matt Bates worked directly with Hilder for more than a year and indirectly for several others. Bates referred to Hilder as “thoughtful, considerate and polite” to everyone who walked into his courtroom.
“You always knew you were going to be treated respectfully and in a friendly manner,” Bates said. “Outside of the courtroom, he would ask how your kids are and he took the time to get to know people and treated you like a human being.”
Bates described Hilder as a “principled person” who viewed the world in a particular manner. He said Hilder “stuck to his guns,” sometimes causing disagreements between the two.
“Robert could sit down and tell you you were completely wrong and you would walk away and feel like he was your best friend. I admired that about him and I always tried to emulate that,” Bates said.
Hilder attended nearly every County Council meeting and was often found in his office at the County Courthouse in Coalville.
A statement from the County Council said, “Robert was a true public servant and represented the citizens of Summit County with exceptional knowledge and resolve. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family in this very sad time.”
Schirf recalled Hilder’s “great sense of humor” and fading Australian accent, adding he was “quick to smile and quick to laugh,” with a personality that drew everyone to him.
“He was a great man and empathetic judge and a really effective Summit County attorney. It’s a big loss for us. He was really starting to affect the whole attitude and culture of the whole office out there and I thought our court system fundamentally needed it,” Schirf said. “He was very easy going and approachable. We’ll miss him.”
Services will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Monday, May 15, in the Santy Auditorium in the Park City Library. According to the family contributions for a memorial bench and tree at the Park City Library field are welcomed. Details to follow. In addition, a Robert K. Hilder Memorial Scholarship Fund to benefit first-generation immigrants in their legal education has been established at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
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The Coalville native doesn’t see any major roadblocks for this year’s fair, though presenting in front of the County Council is a little nerve wracking.