|Photo of U.S. District Courthouse in Utah courtesy of swilsonmc.|
About the book:
What happens in a national park doesn’t stay in a national park. It often ends up in Robert Braithwaite’s courtroom—or sometimes on his kitchen table. Over a lifetime of administering justice, he saw everything from canoodling nudes to sheep hunters with drones to downright dangerous drug cartels. This collection of cases is so outrageous and bizarre you’ll have to read it to believe it.
Q & A with the author:
1. Was your position of U.S. Magistrate Judge one you sought, or one you were asked to do?
Answer: One I sought. After sixteen years of violent felonies, child custody cases, etc. I was ready for a steady diet of misdemeanors :)
2. At the time you accepted, did you realize what you were getting yourself into? If not, what was the biggest eye-opener?
I absolutely knew what I was getting into: the low-pressure but interesting world of bizarre misdemeanants, plus the front end of felony cases. I haven’t been disappointed. I’ve dealt—in one day—with a duck stoning teenager at Lake Powell and an arrest warrant regarding a threat on the president. Details are in the book.
3. From your book, give us a hint about the most bizarre federal issue you heard in your court.
Answer: It’s small potatoes, but the duck stoner was a teenager, who threw rocks at a duck (later saying he wasn’t sure why he did it), seriously injured the duck, a nice couple picnicking nearby tried to snap it’s neck in a mercy killing that was extended and noisy, other picnickers didn’t see the original act by the teenager, deluged 911 with calls regarding the “deranged” couple, and multiple cops converged.
4. For those of us who are readers and writers of books about the old West, how is your “riding the circuit” to fulfill your judicial duties the same as and/or different from the circuit rider judges of old?
Answer: Abraham Lincoln practiced law riding a circuit where the attorneys and the judge stayed together in inns and shared beds to keep warm (Lincoln by David Donald). I don’t do that!
I’d imagine my circuit riding is similar in that the same attorneys travel from St. George to Big Water, and the same attorneys in Salt Lake City travel to Moab. So they’re used to me and me to them. The cases are mostly the same, (drunkenness, smoking dope, etc.) but some are locale related (boating under the influence—Lake Powell.)
5. Tell us about the oldest or most rustic courthouse or courtroom in which you hear cases. Do any of them date back to before the 1900s?
|Big Water Town Hall - used for Federal Court Hearings|
Answer: The most rustic courthouse is the one for Lake Powell. It’s actually the Big Water town hall which one colleague described as a Quonset hut. Big Water has a population of 470, but 3 million visitors come to Lake Powell each year. The courtroom is cooled by a giant, noisy swamp cooler and temperatures are over 100 in the summer. But I shouldn’t complain, they let us use it for free, they’re nice and it’s the only place usable in the area
6. What are one or two of the notable differences between hearing cases in the smaller communities as opposed to when you are in Salt Lake City?
Answer: The main difference is the physical setting. The Salt Lake City and St. George courthouses and courtrooms are state-of-the-art, with security, computer screens for each juror, all the amenities. In Big Water I slip in and out a side door opened by the bailiff so I don’t have to walk the gauntlet of people I’m about to try/have tried at the entrance and courtroom to get to chambers. At Big Water we bring our own portable recording equipment, set it up, and everything is informal and we adjust to whatever needs to be done to accommodate people. Sometimes townspeople there come just for the entertainment provided.
But the cases are the same. Trying a drunk driving case is the same everywhere: same laws, same rules of evidence, and so on. The drives are pleasant. People come from all over the world to see the scenery I pass on many of the stretches to Lake Powell and Moab.
About the author:
Robert Braithwaite currently resides in Cedar City, Utah. He attended Southern Utah University and the University of Utah, graduating in 1973 with a B. S. in Political Science in 1973. He graduated from the University of Utah School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree in 1976. As an attorney he maintained a private practice and served as City Attorney for Cedar City, Parowan and Springdale. He also served for eight years as a member of the Utah Air Conservation Committee, the statutorily-established body regulating pollution emissions in the state.
In a twenty-seven year career as a judge, Robert Braithwaite has been a circuit judge, a district judge, a juvenile judge, a pro tem Utah Supreme Court judge and is now a U. S. magistrate judge. While a state judge, he served on the Utah Judicial Council, the governing board of the Utah state judiciary, and served as chairman of its Policy and Planning subcommittee. As a part-time magistrate judge he now hears criminal cases arising in the southern half of Utah, usually occurring in National Parks and Monuments, National Forests, and federal lands. Needless to say, he rides a circuit, hearing cases in four diverse locations at St. George, Big Water, Moab, and Salt Lake City.
His wife is an artist and art professor. Together they have raised four children.
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