District Court (Second District)

Agency History 274


Under authority granted by the United States Congress through sections nine and sixteen of the organic Act to Establish a Territorial Government for Utah (approved September 9, 1850), Governor Brigham Young (through a proclamation dated August 8, 1851) and the legislative assembly (through an Act Concerning the Judiciary, and for Judicial Purposes, approved October 4, 1851) organized the second judicial district court. Established as a trial court of general jurisdiction, its purpose was to provide for the equitable distribution of justice to the people of the district and to help keep the domestic peace.


Upon the organization of Utah territory by the U.S. Congress, the district courts were given the same jurisdiction in all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States as was vested in the circuit and district courts of the United States. The first six days of the term, or so much as was necessary, were appropriated to the trial of causes arising under the U.S. Constitution and laws. District courts were empowered to naturalize resident aliens and call grand juries.

Utah's Legislative Assembly on February 4, 1852, passed legislation defining the jurisdiction of the territorial courts. Original jurisdiction, "both in civil and criminal cases, as well in chancery as at common law" was given to the district courts and the county probate courts. The district court was given "general supervision over all inferior courts, to prevent and correct abuses where no other remedy is provided." District court judges were charged to report all omissions, discrepancies, or other evident imperfections of the law to the legislature at each regular session. They were authorized to solemnize marriages and effect name changes.

Through the 1874 Poland Act Congress gave exclusive original jurisdiction in proceedings in chancery, all actions involving sums of $300 and greater, and all controversies where the title, possession or boundaries of land, or mines or mining claims were in dispute to the district courts. At the same time Congress limited the jurisdiction of the county probate courts to cases involving the probate of wills, the administration of the estates of deceased persons, and the guardianship of minors, idiots, and insane persons, and prohibited jurisdiction in civil, chancery, and criminal matters. In 1888 the district courts were granted exclusive jurisdiction in divorce cases.

Also in 1874 Congress amended the federal bankruptcy laws enacted in 1867, transferring responsibility for hearing bankruptcy cases from the territorial supreme court to the district courts. Although the law was repealed in 1878, cases could be completed under the terms of the old law provided that they were on file by September 1. Most of these cases were finalized by 1881, although a few weren't concluded until as late as 1888.

Civil matters involving large sums of money and criminal trials for felonies (serious crimes punishable by incarceration in prison) were adjudicated in the district court. The district court heard appeals to decisions by United States commissioners, county probate judges, and justices of the peace. Decisions of the district court could be appealed to the territorial supreme court. A writ of error or appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States from the decisions of the district court upon any writ of habeas corpus involving the question of personal freedom was also allowed.


At its inception, the Second District court in and for the Territory of Utah was administered by the individual supreme court judge assigned to hold court in the district and the clerk of the court. The court was given statutory authority to adopt rules "to carry out the purposes of the statutes, and to subserve the ends of justice." Judges were appointed to the bench by the president of the United States with the advice and consent of the senate and assigned by the governor or legislative assembly to a specific district. A provision of the 1874 Poland Act enabled district court judges to request assistance from a justice in either of the other two districts in holding all or part of any term. The acts of the assisting judge would be recognized as having the same force as those of the resident judge. The court clerk, bailiffs, and court reporters were appointed by the judge and served at the pleasure of the court. The clerk, who kept office at the place where court was held, also served as the register in chancery.


From as early as 1850, Utah has been divided into judicial districts. There were only three districts in the territory from its organization in 1850 until 1892, when a fourth district was added. Regular reapportionment of the judicial districts by the legislature changed the make up of each district dramatically during the territorial period. Of the 27 counties existing at statehood, 15 had been assigned to the territorial second district. Of the 10 extinct counties from the territorial period, half were at one time included in the second district (Carson, Cedar, Humbolt, St. Mary's, and Rio Virgin). Originally consisting of Davis and Weber counties in northern Utah, district boundaries were changed after only two months when both were moved into the first district and replaced by Millard and Sanpete counties. The district embraced southern Utah from 1855-1859 and from 1862-1896. Two bills intended to equalize the case load of the district courts were rejected by the Legislative Assembly in 1888. One would have merged the entire southern division of the First Judicial District with the Second District. A less drastic measure would have moved only Millard and Sevier counties from the First District into the Second Judicial District.

Regular court sessions were scheduled throughout the district between 1851 and 1859, requiring court officers of the second district court to travel to as many as four different counties (Millard, Sanpete, Juab, Utah, and Iron) during a calendar year. Court sessions were held in Carson City in 1859 when Carson, Humbolt, and St. Mary's counties in present-day Nevada made up the second district court of Utah Territory. Carson City was established as the county seat of Carson County and designated as the seat of the second district court through an act of the legislative assembly dated January 18, 1861. After Carson County became part of the newly created Territory of Nevada in March 1861, it was necessary to establish the seat of the second district court elsewhere. The county seat of Washington County was selected by the legislative assembly in 1862. Court sessions were scheduled in Washington town in 1862 and in St. George from 1863 until 1870. Beaver became the seat of the second district court through a proclamation by territorial Governor J. W. Shaffer dated July 15, 1870, and all second district court sessions were held there until Utah was granted statehood on January 4, 1896. After statehood the practice of hearing cases from throughout the district exclusively in Beaver, was replaced by holding regular terms at the county seat of each county within the district. The new state constitution established seven districts throughout Utah in an effort to place the courts within easy access of all the state's citizens. The newly reorganized second district was composed of Davis, Morgan, and Weber counties.

Zerubbabel Snow, 1851-1854
Leonidas Shaver, 1853
Lazarus H. Reed (chief justice), 1853
Lazarus H. Reed, 1854-1856
William Wormer Drummond, 1856-1857
John Cradlebaugh, 1858-1860
Robert P. Flenniken, 1860-1863
Carles B. Waite, 1863-1864
Solomon P. McCurdy, 1864-1867
Enos D. Hoge, 1868-1869
Cyrus M. Hawley, 1869-1874
Jacob Smith Boreman, 1874-1880
Stephen P. Twiss, 1880-1885
Jacob Smith Boreman, 1886-1889
Thomas J. Anderson, 1889-Sept. 1892
James Alvin Miner, Sept. 1892-Feb. 1893
George Washington Bartch, 1893-1896

COMPILED BY: W. Glen Fairclough, Jr., , July 2002


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Page Last Updated July 2, 2003.