‘Very thorough’ 5th District judge recognized with judicial excellence award

In this file photo, 5th District Judge Michael Westfall (background) hears from defense counsel Gary Pendleton (foreground) during the Brandon Perry Smith trial in early 2017. Smith was found guilty by a jury in the Dec. 11, 2010, murder of 20-year-old Jerrica Christensen, St. George, Utah, Feb. 3, 2017 | Photo by Kevin Jenkins via Utah court pool, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – 5th District Court Judge G. Michael Westfall was once again among a handful of judges to be honored by the Utah State Bar.

Westfall was one of 10 state court judges who received the Judicial Excellence Award during the Utah State Bar Litigation Section conference Nov. 10 in Moab. Other recipients included a Utah Court of Appeals judge and a Utah Supreme Court justice.

This award is given to recognize the judges who promote an orderly and civil litigation process and have demonstrated exemplary character and competence in performing their judicial duties,” said Heather Thuet, vice chairwoman of the Litigation Section of the Utah State Bar.

Westfall also received the award in 2015.

Read more: 5th District Judge receives judicial excellence award

Westfall was appointed to serve as a judge of the 5th District Court by then-Gov. Michael O. Leavitt in 2003. He primarily served in Beaver and Iron counties until transferring to the Washington County in 2014 to fill the vacancy left by retiring Judge James Shumate.

Prior to being appointed to the bench, Westfall served as a small claims judge in Washington County from 1998 to 2002 and was a practicing attorney in St. George before that.

“The primary reason I wanted to be a judge was so I could be the one making the decisions instead of living with someone else’s decisions,” Westfall said in a 2014 interview with St. George News. “I had practiced law for about 20 years and was not happy with some decisions, so I decided to put myself in the position to make the decisions.”

In this file photo, 5th District Judge Michael Westfall during the first day of testimony during the Brandon Perry Smith trial, St. George, Utah, Jan. 31, 2017 | Photo by Chris Caldwell via Utah court pool, St. George News

Among the more notable cases Westfall came to preside over after moving to Washington County was that of Brandon Perry Smith, one of the defendants in a  2010 double-murder case. Smith was found guilty at trial earlier this year and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killings.

Read more: Smith convicted of murder on reduced charge with ‘special mitigations’ 

In the courtroom, Westfall has gained a reputation of being thorough and meticulous, particularly in regard to making sure defendants know their rights and what they’re committing to before entering a plea or taking a deal from the prosecution.

“Westfall is very thorough,” victims advocate Tiffany Mower said, echoing words from 2014 when Westfall came to Washington County. “He makes sure they understand what they’ve gotten into and the consequences of it.”

Read more: New district court judge takes the bench

Mower said it is “refreshing” when compared to other courtrooms that seemingly move cases along as fast as possible.

Due process takes time. You’re dealing with people’s lives,” defense attorney Aric Cramer said, adding Westfall is among his favorite judges to present cases to.

Believing that judges weren’t receiving the recognition they deserved, Thuet initiated the Judicial Excellence Award program and has overseen it since its creation in 2014.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.


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