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Appendix A: History of Utah Juvenile Court Studies

I. Appendix A: History of Utah Juvenile Court Studies(1)

This task force is by no means the first to study the organization and jurisdiction of the juvenile court. The Utah juvenile court has a long history of evaluation by many different committees and task forces. Over the past three decades many groups have recommended a family court for Utah, but none has been able to successfully construct a family court. The principal factor that has changed since the prior studies is the adoption by the Legislature of state funding of all courts of record.(2)

Despite being able to establish the merits of a family court, earlier groups were faced with the formidable task of merging a state funded juvenile court with a county funded district court. Because all courts are now state funded, the judiciary no longer faces that obstacle.

From its inception in 1903 until 1965, the juvenile court was organized within the Utah Department of Public Welfare. Juvenile court judges were appointed by the Welfare Commission with the approval of the Governor. In 1963, the Utah Supreme Court held that control of the juvenile court by the Welfare Commission violated the principle of separation of powers contained in Article V, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution.(3)

In 1965, the Utah Legislature passed the Juvenile Court Act(4) and established the juvenile court as a state funded court of record within the judicial branch of government.

One year later, in September 1966, the juvenile court judges published a position statement on judicial reform that advocated the creation of a family court.(5)

The grounds for such a position were stated as:

  • an integrated court system rather than a multiplicity of courts;
  • protection of children and preservation of family life;
  • continuity of service and treatment;
  • effective use of facilities and personnel and the reduction of administrative costs; and
  • the development of uniform procedures.

The Legislature adopted a county option family court with the passage of the Family Court Act in 1969.(6) The legislation, which is still part of the Utah Code, authorized the then county funded district court to establish a family court division.(7)

The family court division authorized by the act did not incorporate the traditional concept of a family court with combined domestic and juvenile jurisdiction. Rather, under the act, judges, domestic relations commissioners, and domestic relations counselors provided counseling for the reconciliation of parties who had filed for divorce.(8) The act created a cause of action known as conciliation which acted as a bar to an action for divorce.(9)

The county option family court was implemented only in Salt Lake County. It operated from July 1, 1969 to December 31, 1973.(10)

In 1971, the Legislature directed the creation of "a Family Court Commission to study and prepare the necessary legislation to integrate the district and juvenile courts of the State of Utah..."(11)

The Unified Courts Advisory Committee was formed and recommended in 1972 that a family division of the district court be established.(12)

Also in 1971, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare issued a report to Governor Calvin L. Rampton regarding the Utah Juvenile Justice System. Among other recommendations for the juvenile justice system, the federal agency recommended a statewide family court in Utah.(13)

The agency recommended that the family court not have jurisdiction of minor traffic offenses(14) or status offenses.(15)

The Utah State Bar recommended in 1972 that the juvenile court be abolished and that a family division of the district court be assigned, by rule of the court, all juvenile and family related matters.(16)

The problems identified with the division of family cases between the district and juvenile courts were:

  • confusion and conflicts in the jurisdiction of the two courts;
  • juvenile court perceived as inferior to the district court;
  • juvenile court burdened by the overload of behavioral problems of children better left to counseling through public and private agencies; and
  • duplication of travel and administrative costs.

In 1975, the Legislature directed a study to determine the effectiveness of the juvenile court.(17) The study was never completed.(18)

In 1977, the Legislature directed "a comprehensive study for the adoption of a family court..."(19)

The task force established to develop recommendations did not issue a final report because it split on two issues:

  • whether the support services arm of the court should be reestablished within the executive branch or remain with the court; and
  • whether a family court should be a division of the district court of a separate court.(20)

In 1978, the Office of Legislative Research issued a report to the 43d Legislature with alternative recommendations. The principal recommendation was to establish a family division within the district court. As an alternative, the Office of Legislative Research recommended a separate family court. As a final alternative, the Office of Legislative Research recommended a separate family court only in the urban judicial districts.(21)

In 1980, the Board of Juvenile Court Judges again issued a statement in favor of establishing a family court.(22)

In October 1984 and 1985, the Families in Court Task Force considered the issue of developing a family court but recommended many statutory changes within the existing organization and structure of the courts.(23)

In 1985, the Board of Juvenile Court Judges issued a statement recommending that a family court not be established until there had been an opportunity to evaluate the effect of the legislative changes passed as a result of the Families in Court Task Force study.(24)

In 1991, the Commission on Justice in the Twenty-first Century issued its final report recommending the full integration of the juvenile court into the district court and the consolidation of juvenile and domestic litigation into a department.(25)

In 1994, a committee of the Utah State Bar considering unmet legal needs in Utah also recommended the formation of a unified family court.(26)

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1. The task force wishes to express its appreciation to the Honorable Franklyn B. Matheson of the Third District Juvenile Court for providing the files necessary for the reconstruction of this history.

2. The Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Juvenile Court have always been state funded. The city courts were reestablished as state funded circuit courts by Laws of Utah 1977, Chapter 77. The fiscal and management obligations of the district courts were shifted from the counties to the state by Laws of Utah 1988, Chapter 152.

3. In Re Woodward, 14 Utah 2d 336, 384 P2d 110 (1965).

4. Laws of Utah 1965, Chapter 165.

5. Position Statement on Judicial Reform for the State of Utah, Board of Juvenile Court Judges, September 1966, at 7 - 13.

6. Laws of Utah 1969, Chapter 72.

7. 30-3-13.1.

8. 30-3-16.1; 30-3-17.

9. 30-3-16.2; 30-3-16.7.

10. Report Number 25 to the 43d Legislature at 17.

11. Laws of Utah 1971, SJR 24, Paragraph 22.

12. Utah Courts Tomorrow: Report and Recommendations of the Unified Courts Advisory Committee, Utah Legislative Council, Recommendations 1, 24. (September, 1972).

13. Report of a study requested by Governor Calvin L. Rampton of the Utah Juvenile Justice System conducted by the Youth Development and Delinquency Prevention Administration, Social and Rehabilitation Service, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. December 16, 1971. Pages 12 and 126.

14. Id. at 12 and 120 to 125.

15. Id. at 13, 117 to 120, and 154 to 160.

16. Recommendation of the Utah State Bar Concerning Adoption of Unified Court for Utah, Recommendation 4, April 22, 1972. cited in the June 26, 1972 draft of Utah Courts Tomorrow: Report and Recommendations of the Unified Courts Advisory Committee, Utah Legislative Council.

17. Laws of Utah 1975, SJR 29, Paragraph 15.

18. Presentation to the Salt Lake County Commission on Youth, Family Court Task Force, by Hon. Franklyn B. Matheson, April 5, 1984.

19. Laws of Utah 1977, H.J.R. 9.

20. Presentation of Judge Matheson, April 5, 1984.

21. Report Number 25 to the 43d Legislature at 59 to 62.

22. Preliminary Position Statement on Family Court. Board of Juvenile Court Judges. July, 1980.

23. Final Reports of the Families in Court Task Force. October 1984, November 1985.

24. Position of the Board of Juvenile Court Judges Regarding the Creation of a Family Court in Utah. June 14, 1985.

25. Final Report of the Commission on Justice in the Twenty-first Century, Recommendation 4.9 at page 53.

26. Report of the Utah State Bar's Assessment of Unmet Legal Needs in Utah and Volunteer Legal Services Plan of Action, at pages 13 - 14, June 10, 1994.

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The Utah State Courts mission is to provide the people an open, fair, efficient, and independent system for the advancement of justice under the law.

Page Last Modified: 5/20/2010

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