Judge Recuses Himself in University Gun Cases

Judge Recuses Himself in University Gun Cases

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The judge who upheld the University of Utah ban on firearms has recused himself from handling any further action in the case in the wake of criticism by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and a state senator.

In his recusal order filed Friday, 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder denied injecting "in any way or in any degree any personal bias or preference," but said he saw no other way to restore the public's confidence.

"In rare instances, a meritless perception of bias is as damaging to the public's confidence in the judicial process as the presence of actual bias. This is particularly true in matters that have a high public profile," Hilder wrote. "The public statements simply cannot be countered in any way that would reasonably restore the public's confidence in this particular tribunal."

Shurtleff and Senate Majority Leader Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, denied questioning Hilder's integrity.

"I was surprised he would even recuse himself. He's already made his ruling and he's not even in the loop," Shurtleff said.

However, if Shurtleff appeals Hilder's ruling, the Utah Supreme Court possibly could remand the case back to state court.

Shurtleff earlier had said that Hilder and U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball, who refused to rule in the university's lawsuit until a state court looked at issues of law, had "tipped their hats on how they feel about guns."

Waddoups said that Shurtleff was "judging the judges and I have to think he's pretty accurate, because I don't know how Hilder ever came up with his decision."

Waddoups said Tuesday that his remarks had "nothing to do with (Hilder's) impartiality.

"I could never figure out where he came from. I don't see how anybody could interpret the plain language of the law the way he did. But he did. It's either him wanting to rule from the bench or flat out not understanding what the intent of the Legislature was," he said.

Waddoups is planning legislation "to make clear our intent," that the Legislature is the only body with the authority to make gun policy in Utah.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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