by Howard Stephenson
The Utah Taxpayers recently recognized three distinguished Utahns for their service to taxpayers. At its annual Utah Taxes Now Conference, held April 24 at Little America Hotel, the Association presented retiring Chief Justice Richard Howe with its Lifetime Service Award, Judge Lynn Davis with its Excellence in Public Service Award, and House Speaker Marty Stephens with its Taxpayer Advocate of the Year Award.
Taxpayer Advocate of the Year: Speaker Marty Stephens
In presenting the award, Taxpayers Association Vice President Mike Jerman noted that in the 2003 Legislative Session, the state of Utah was confronted with budgetary problems for the second consecutive year as a consequence of an economic downturn. Decreased corporate profitability, higher unemployment, and reduced economic activity put a serious strain on Utah’s budget. Utah’s problems were not unique. Nearly every state was faced with serious shortfalls, by some estimates a total of $80 billion.
Prior to the start of the 2003 Legislative Session, many observers had assumed that a general tax increase was unavoidable. The experience of 1987, a difficult year in which the state raised sales and income taxes by nearly $300 million in current dollars, was frequently mentioned.
One of the most critical functions of government is determining and implementing a budget. Balancing the needs of various groups dependent upon taxpayer dollars with the needs of the taxpayers themselves, especially in a state with the nation’s 9th highest tax burden and nation’s highest bankruptcy rate, is a daunting task. Demands for tax increases came from numerous sources: newspaper and radio editorial boards, government employee unions, advocates for the poor, and many other groups. Legislators, including several Republicans, sponsored bills that would have increased Utah’s tax burden substantially.
Each legislator has one vote, but a legislator’s leadership can impact legislative decisions disproportionately larger than that legislator’s one vote. In its summary of the 2003 legislative session, a major Utah newspaper lamented on the legislature’s refusal to impose a general tax increase and blamed House Speaker Marty Stephens as the main culprit. The Utah Taxpayers Association agrees that Speaker Stephens is largely responsible for holding the line on taxes this session. However, we do not see him as a culprit but rather as a hero.
For his leadership in defeating general tax increases, the Utah Taxpayers Association presented its “2003 Taxpayer Advocate of the Year” to House Speaker Marty Stephens. This is the second time Speaker Stephens has been awarded this designation from the Utah Taxpayers Association. No other person has won this award twice.
Excellence in Public Service Award: Judge Lynn Davis
Utah had a Tax Court between 1977 and 1990, but due to the onerous burden imposed on those judges assigned to the tax court, it was dissolved, explained Utah Taxpayers Association President Howard Stephenson, in making the award. Judge Michael Murphy who is now on the Federal 10th Circuit court of appeals was at that time a tax court judge. He met with two lawyers who are today members of the Taxpayers Association Board of Directors, Maxwell Miller and Mark Buchi, and asked their support of a statutory repeal of the then existing tax court law. Why? Because judges didn’t want to take the cases. The extra workload just wasn’t worth it.
So the tax court was repealed and tax cases were assigned to all the district court judges, regardless of whether they had any aptitude or desire to handle these complex cases.
Then in the late 90’s several interested parties including Mark Buchi and Max Miller attempted to restore the tax court concept. It took us a couple of attempts before we succeeded. I had the privilege of sponsoring the legislation in 1998 to re-authorize the tax court in a somewhat different format from the previous tax court. One of the reasons I sponsored the legislation was to save taxpayers money in the tax appeal process. Through the option of having tax cases argued before tax-trained judges, lawyers for both taxpayers and taxing agencies no longer have to take the additional time to educate rotating general jurisdiction judges from the ground up regarding complex tax issues.
The Taxpayers Association has been impressed by the willingness of the seven current tax court judges to accept these additional responsibilities with no extra pay. They receive no reduction in their caseloads in taking on these very complicated cases, resulting in a very onerous burden.
We acknowledge that we currently run the same risk of burnout with these judges as we did in 1990. The reason for this is that the legislature and the administrative office of the courts has not lived up to the full tax court agreement. The promise of a law clerk to assist these judges with their additional responsibilities has not been fulfilled.
As is written in the published Rules of Judicial Administration. Rule 6-103 (5) (vi) Tax Court Judges were to receive “The use of law clerk resources to develop tax expertise, to assist the tax judges, and to facilitate consistency in the development in case precedents in the tax area and otherwise assist in the transition as new tax judges are designated.” The language anticipates a clerk to provide training, institutional memory, and consistency.
At this point we must admit that the agreements that were made at the inception of the new tax court have not been fulfilled. Neither the law clerk nor the ongoing training promised to these judges has been provided.
We are hopeful that these tax court judges will continue to serve voluntarily on the tax court so that it won’t die under its own weight as it did in 1990. We believe the hiring of a law clerk will ease the workload burden of the Tax Court judges and expedite the speed at which decisions are handed down.
Tax Court Judge Lynn Davis, but he was chosen to receive this award today because he is representative of the other tax court judges as he willingly becomes immersed in the issues of the cases which come before him. Attorneys who come into his court tell me diligence is obvious. They are impressed by his thoughtful questions of witnesses which demonstrate that he has been tracking the presentations and studying the file.
You would enjoy reading Judge Davis’s resume. It’s diversity is amazing. I’m just going to mention a few things. While in college, he was research assistant BYU President Dallin Oaks and prepared the book Carthage Conspiracy, for publication. His published works and presented papers include “Yogi Berra on Criminal Law: Wit and Whimsy in the Courtroom,” Justicia para Todos: Ensuring Equal Acess to the Courts for Linguistic Minorities,” and “Expressing the Poetry Hidden in You,”
For his service to the taxpayers of Utah, the Utah Taxpayers Association presented Judge Lynn Davis and the judges of the Utah Tax Court, the Association’s 2002 “Excellence in Public Service” Award.
The current judges of the Tax Court are: 2nd District, Glen Dawson and Jon Memmott; 3rd District Lee Dever, and Pat Brian; 4th District, Lynn Davis and Guy Burningham.
In presenting this award the Utah Taxpayers Association pledged its support to obtain funding of a law clerk to assist tax court judges.
Lifetime Service Award: Justice Richard C. Howe
Taxpayers Association Chairman Paul Judd presented an award to honor a man whose life has been one of continuous exemplary public service. Richard C. Howe is the only person in Utah history to serve as a member of the State House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the State Supreme Court. He now is retiring from public service.
Richard C. Howe was born January 20, 1924, in South Cottonwood, Utah, graduated from Granite High School, and graduated from the University of Utah in speech (B.S. degree) and again in law.
He soon established a private law practice in Salt Lake County which lasted until 1980. He served for twelve years in the Utah House of Representatives (1951-58) and (1969-72) where he became Speaker of the House for the 1971-72 session.
Elected to the Utah Senate in 1972, he served there to 1978. He was assistant minority leader in the 1973-74 session. During his eighteen years in the House and Senate, he served on every major committee. He introduced and sponsored legislation to establish a Judicial Council and Court Administrator in Utah.
In 1980, he was appointed a Justice of the Utah Supreme Court by Governor Scott M. Matheson. He served as Associate Chief Justice for eight years, and in April 1998, he was elected by his colleagues to a four-year term as Chief Justice.
He was appointed last year by Chief Justice William H. Renquist to the Advisory Committee on the Rules of Appellate Procedure of the United States Judicial Conference where he will continue to serve.
He is married to the former Juanita Lyon. They are the parents of three sons and three daughters and grandparents of eighteen grandchildren. He has been active in church and civic affairs and enjoys gardening as a hobby. He grows great corn.
In preparing for this recognition the association contacted two of Justice Howe’s former colleagues.
Senator Haven Barlow was President of the Senate while Richard Howe was Speaker of the House. Haven said Dick was easy to work with and shunned partisanship. He was always willing to allow all sides of an issue to be heard. He said Speaker Howe was soft spoken, yet very persuasive, hard working, methodical and always knew the issues well.
Senator Barlow said, “He was great to work with. Bonnie Rae and I always felt close to Dick and Juanita.” He said Richard Howe is the only person to go directly from the House to the Senate and then to the Supreme Court. Senator Barlow noted that during his tenure, Richard has been one of the more conservative justices on the Supreme Court.
Justice Christine Durham served on the Supreme Court with Justice Howe for 20 years and has been inspired by what she described as Richard’s unfailing courtesy. She said she has never seen him be disrespectful or discourteous to anyone. She said he has been for the court a stabilizing influence, because of his personal steadiness and his length of tenure on the court. He has served as a source of wisdom and reflection. Justice Durham noted that Richard Howe is the only member of the Supreme Court who also had experience in the legislative branch which made him a great sounding board when discussing administrative issues.
For his exemplary service to the people of Utah, the Utah Taxpayers Association presented its “2003 Lifetime Service Award” to Chief Justice Richard C. Howe.