Judge Thomas Willmore speaking during a retirement open house Friday afternoon in the 1st District Courthouse, Feb. 7, 2020 (Will Feelright).
LOGAN — In front of family, friends and colleagues, Judge Thomas Willmore announced he was done and moving on. The 63-year-old judge tearfully spoke during a retirement open house Friday afternoon, in the same courtroom where he has presided over thousands of civil and criminal cases.
Judge Willmore spoke about how courtrooms are a special place, unlike few others in the country. He said they are one of the few places in the country where people are expected to tell the truth.
“There are not many places like that nowadays are there,” questioned Judge Willmore. “They are sworn to tell the truth. All participants in a court have taken an oath. The judge takes and oath. The attorneys have taken an oath. Witnesses are sworn and take oaths, and the jurors do also. It makes you think that maybe things would be different in our country, if Congress and the President had to swear to tell the truth every time they spoke or tweeted.”
Judge Willmore was appointed to the 1st District Court in January 1999 by Governor Michael Leavitt. He has presided over many high-profile cases, including the murder trial for Heidi M. Rutchey, who was found guilty but mentally ill of killing her young son.
Judge Willmore generally addressed some of those difficult cases, explaining that there is a lot of evil in the world. He said judges see and deal with terrible things, and must make very hard decisions.
“There is justice in a courtroom and there is accountability. There is punishment when needed, but yet there is much, much more mercy than really any punishment in our district.
“I’ve seen people at their worst. But more importantly, I’ve seen people at their very, very best in this courtroom.”
Earlier, four graduates of Judge Willmore’s Drug Court, a program he started 20 years ago that helps people overcome their addictions, spoke about how he had given them hope to change their lives.
One man said, Judge Willmore’s service has had a ripple effect on the community. Another woman described him as far more loved than revered. His retirement also leaves a hole in the community that will be very hard to fill.
Judge Willmore said he has seen more than 500 people graduate from the Drug Court programs in Cache and Box Elder counties. He explained that he always wanted court to be a place of hope and redemption.
“Some of the best people I have ever met in my life were in this courtroom. They have been in trouble, or had issues and problems. I have seen them turn their lives around. It’s incredible to see people make changes.
“As judges, we hear a lot of sad words in court. A lot of crying goes on in court, a lot of pain, a lot of hurt. Some of the saddest words that I’ve ever heard in court are, ‘I can’t stop using. I don’t know how to stop.’”
Judge Willmore announced his retirement last September. He will finish February 16. His replacement is expected to be announced by Governor Gary Herbert in the upcoming weeks.