Attorney at Law Magazine Utah publisher John Marciano sat down with Judge Paige Petersen to discuss her career in the courtroom.
AALM: What court do you preside over and how long have you held that position?
Petersen: I have been a district judge in the Third Judicial District for a little over two years. Until recently, I handled both a criminal calendar in Summit County and a civil calendar in Salt Lake County. Currently, I have a civil docket in the Matheson Courthouse.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.
Petersen: I want the lawyers and parties in my courtroom to leave feeling that I treated them fairly, whether they prevailed or not. I do my best to be prepared, patient and impartial. I listen closely and ask questions until I understand both sides.
AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff .
Petersen: I couldn’t do my job without my judicial assistants, case manager and law clerk. We are a team. Being around these wonderful people brightens my day.
AALM: Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?
Petersen: The Rules of Civility are important to me. I expect counsel to be civil and professional with one another. If counsel is demeaning to his or her opponent in briefing or argument, I find it not just off-putting, but unpersuasive and usually inaccurate.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
Petersen: Being a judge is even more rewarding than I hoped it would be. Sometimes, I have an opportunity to positively affect a person’s life – whether it is by encouraging a participant in drug court, performing an adoption, or resolving a civil dispute in a way that lets adversaries move on with their lives. When I’m able to help someone, I feel a great sense of satisfaction.
AALM: What do you miss about being a lawyer?
Petersen: I miss the exhilaration of being an advocate in court.
AALM: Are there any challenges that you believe need to be corrected in the legal community?
Petersen: There are many more people who represent themselves in court without a lawyer than I would have ever imagined. Like all litigants these people are involved in cases that are very important to them, but they simply can’t afford a lawyer. They are left to negotiate the legal system on their own. Utah has done much to address the needs of pro se litigants, however, it is still a daunting challenge.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
Petersen: I’m a sports fan, and I especially enjoy watching football. I’m a fan of the Utes and the Denver Broncos, and I love to see a good Von Miller sack.
AALM: Tell us a funny story either from your days as a practitioner or from your days on the bench.
Petersen: When I practiced as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, the courthouse was a decent walk from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I would often walk to the courthouse in comfortable shoes and change into pumps when I arrived. One morning, I was headed to court in the midst of a very long and difficult racketeering trial. I was set to begin the direct examination of an important witness. When I reached the courthouse, I went to change into my pumps and realized I had grabbed one navy shoe and one black shoe, and both were for my left foot. I didn’t have enough time to run back to the office, so I ended up standing at the podium wearing my paralegal’s shoes. Not a good way to start the trial day!
“I want the lawyers and parties in my courtroom to leave feeling that I treated them fairly, whether they prevailed or not.”