I encourage anyone who (like me) didn’t attend Washington Supreme Court Justice Bob Utter’s April 29, 2015 memorial service at Washington State’s Temple of Justice to read the admiring words Judge Robert H. Alsdorf (ret.) had to say about Justice Utter as reproduced in the NWSidebar. [1] Below, please find some of the cut-out excerpts from that source.

I have yet to meet a person who knew Bob Utter who has failed at some point to mention the ever-present twinkle in his eye.

I have yet to meet a legal professional who knew Bob Utter who has failed to admire his intellect, his discipline, his passion for justice.

Bob’s work with the ABA started shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. He started providing analysis and commentary on draft laws and constitutional provisions, even entire constitutions, prepared by former Eastern bloc countries. But Bob didn’t stay in the comfort of his home to do this. No, he went the extra mile. Or, should I say, the extra tens of thousands of miles, traveling scores of times to these countrie.

Bob continued this type of work for decades with legal professionals, not just in Eastern Europe. Among other things, he joined a project to preserve for history materials relating to the operations of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, following upon that nation’s genocide of 1994. And he also made multiple trips to a newly established judicial center in Prague to train judges from the Middle East and elsewhere.

“Judge Bob” knew that establishing the rule of law would not be an easy straight line or forward progress. He taught for the long haul. And he taught that at certain times the simple refusal to do the wrong thing is the closest one can come to the true rule of law.

I started my comments today with a reference to the twinkle in Bob’s eye. Let me end with another observation. Nobody could spend significant time with Bob Utter, the man and the judge, without seeing something else in his eyes — tears. Bob cared deeply about others. He often teared up when ending a program, knowing the risks many judges would face on returning to their home countries (at least three of the Iraqi judges he taught have since died in the unrest that continues to plague their country). Iraqi judges commented upon his tearing up, they in turn having been moved that an American cared enough to feel so strongly about justice in their country.

We will all miss Bob Utter, but we will not be alone. Lawyers and judges and others around the world will also miss him deeply.

There is quite a bit of content in those cut-outs to work with. First, obviously is the point to attempt to retain that spark for life. The way to know if you have it is that others will notice the sparkle in your eye. Perhaps on another occasion it would be worth doing a blog post just on how the ‘Eyes are the Window to the Soul.’ Regardless, try to make your souls sparkle and it will show!

Second, look at the three characteristics which Judge Utter uses as immediate follow-up: intellect, discipline, and passion for justices. Let’s tease these out a little bit more. As to intellect, I invite you to glance back at my recent post congratulating the graduates of 2015. [2] ??? Perhaps others are unwilling to share my belief, but I think that anyone who is able to pass through the rigors of law school have more than adequate intellect. 

But, do they have enough discipline? And, if one is fortunate enough to have those two assets on his or her side, the one which comes last – because it comes at a price – is retaining passion for justice. Let’s face it, hueing a course is difficult enough, leading others to take that path too is extraordinary.

I hate to admit it, but I was only 2 years out of college when Rwanda. The most I know about it is the 2004 Don Cheadle film – Hotel Rwanda.

Cheadle’s character is a Hutu hotelier married to a Tutsi wife. If correctly garnering the basic history from the movie, when the Dutch had been in control they relied on the Tutsi for political stability, but upon the Dutch pulling out of Rwanda a power vacume was created in which the Hutu sought to reverse the roles.

After the basic expository scenes depicting the country as basically corrupt all around, that something ‘odd’ would soon occur when a crate of machetes are dropped off a fork lift, and the overall tone of the Hotel being an “oasis in the desert” where international tourists gathered, the movie starts in earnest with a visit to the Hotelier’s Tutsi, inlaws.

The house appears to be of western standards, which in a third world country is oppulant. And then it happens, a jeep pulls up and beats up the neighbor across the street and takes him away. The Hotelier watches but remains quiet.

His inability to immediately size up this situation and instead offer assurances to his in-laws appear to likely have served as a cause of their presumed death as once all was over they were never found.

Justice Utter sought to clean up these types of messes and attempt to prevent them from happening in the first place. How many lawyers are willing to really step back from their day to day work and realize that they have tremendous power and influence to not fight for any one person’s cause in order to zealously serve their client’s (purported) interest and instead look at the overall system?

I wish there were more. This profession offers not only an opportunity to make a good to great life, when seeking to work at the level of making positive systemic changes, this profession allows the opportunity to make a lasting, and positive impact on the globe.

Considering that we are all travelling down a one-way path, do you want to make your life’s work serve as a legacy (albeit one that likely will not be be attributed to you a mere two generations from now) or do you just want to get what you can in an “I got mine, I guess it must be hard to be you” type attitude.

The difference to me couldn’t be clearer. Is it to you my fellow lawyer?

To Justice Utter: Thank you for using your life to exhibit good and for your service to Washington State and beyond.  


[1] Judge Robert H. Alsdorf (ret.) full comments can be found [HERE].

[2] My post titled: Congratulations Law Graduates – Now Just Clear the Bar! is [HERE]

[2] Find a wikipedia entry about Hotel Rwanda [HERE] and the IMDb entry about it [HERE].