APEX Hour at SUU

10/21/21: Judge David Mortensen of the Utah Appeals Court

Episode Summary

In today’s episode host Lynn Vartan talks with Utah Appeals Court Judge David Mortensen about what the life and work of a judge is like. They discuss if judges always agree, what the process is like, and how judges develop their careers. Their conversation then turns to music as they discuss a wide range musical genres based on the the judge's musical background!

Episode Notes

APEX Website

Episode Transcription

Dr. Lynn Vartan  00:02

Hey everyone, this is Lynn Vartan, and you're listening to the apex our on KSUU Thunder 91.1. In this show, you get more personal time with the guests who visit southern Utah University from all over, learning more about their stories and opinions beyond their presentations on stage. We will also give you some new music to listen to, and hope to turn you on to some new sounds and new genres. You can find us here every Thursday at 3pm or on the web @suu.edu slash apex. But for now, welcome to this week's show here on Thunder 91.1. All right, well, welcome in everyone. This is such an exciting day, we at the apex hour today, we're working on a or had a collaboration that I think has been going on now for six or seven years. And this is what we call our live court session. Once a year for Apex events. We host the Utah appeals court on campus usually, and they hear cases and go through their public part of the appeals process in in front of our student body. And oftentimes we also have a q&a with our students afterwards and just do all kinds of amazing things, digging into what the appeals court process is.  I am so excited today because we're continuing that collaboration. And we have Judge David Mortonson on air with me today to talk about, yes about the appeals court, but also about music because he has a music background as well. So welcome judge Mortensen. 


Judge David Mortonson  01:55

Thank you. It's good to be here. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  01:57

Thank you so much for taking the time. To start out. I wonder if you could give just a little snapshot of your history leading up to your appointment on the Utah appeals court, which I think was in 2016. 


Judge David Mortonson  02:11

Yes. This the short version, obviously, I have a long history like everybody else. But the short version is I went to law school and got a lot of grief. I practiced civil law primarily for a little more than a decade. At which point, Governor Huntsman appointed me to the trial bench in the fourth district court in Provo. I served there for 10 years. And then Governor Herbert have pointed me to the Utah Court of Appeals, as he said in May of 2016. And is that something you always kind of had your eye on the appeals court? Or is it something that evolved later, and you just got excited about the possibility? A little bit of both, and I'll explain the restriction. First. There are two appellate courts in Utah, the Utah Court of Appeals. And then of course, our court of last resort, the Utah Supreme Court, there are five members of the Utah Supreme Court. And there are seven members of the Utah Court of Appeals. So in the state of Utah, there are 12 judges who hear appeals. So in a way, you can have aspirations to be in one of those positions, which obviously I had at some point. But to have that be your career goal would be a really bad plan. Since there's only 12 people, your chances of getting it have a lot to do with the stars aligning part of it has to do with where the current members of the corridor in their lives. Our current core, both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, there may be somebody retiring one person in the next couple of years, and after that, it very well might be a decade or longer. But he leaves and so that's why I mean, having that be your career plan would not be a good one. On the other hand, my interest in it has been there since law school. I'm the first lawyer in my family. And so I knew very little about the law, going into law school, but then everybody in their first year writes an appellate brief and argues before a panel of three judges in what they call moot court kind of a pretend court. Um, but it's very much like what actually happens in the appellate courts. And as a result of that, that piqued my interest, I actually traveled on a team out of state that competed with other law schools and that appellate practice, and then I did appeals as part of my private practice at all got put on the backburner when I became a trial judge, but I always have my eye eye on that, but I did have a when I was. Before I became a lawyer, I was clerking, doing research at a law firm during law school and had a conversation with one of the partners there. And, and we kind of distilled one day, what we thought was the best legal job in Utah. And after a couple of hours of conversation, we're actually rock climbing at the time. But after that conversation, we determined that the best legal job in Utah was to be a judge on the Utah Court of Appeals. 12 years later, I became a judge. And then 10 years after that, so 20 to 22 years later, it happens. So like I said, the stars have to align. So it's not a good career plan. But if you can get the gig, it's certainly awesome. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  05:44

That's awesome. What a story. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes it the best job? 


Judge David Mortonson  05:51

Well, first off, it has to be the best job for you. Because if you like what we do, it's it's awesome, because that's all we do. 24 seven, if you don't like what we do, it would be really close to waterboarding. The reason I say that is the majority of what appellate judges do is read and write, write the best corollary I have. And when I tell students this, they look at me like why would you want this job. And we basically each write four opinions a month on the Court of Appeals. And an opinion is a published decision. Once it's published, all the other courts have to follow it. It's very thoroughly vetted and researched. And all the three judges vote on the language, it's included in that the closest thing you'll ever experience to it outside of court is writing a term paper. So I write for large term papers every month. Now I'm into research writing, so to me, best job in the world. But as I said, when I explained that to visiting students, they looked at me like why would anybody want to do that for a career? 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  06:55

One of the other things that's fascinating to me about what you do is, is that you kind of get to become an expert in an incredible variety of topics and areas each week. Could you talk a little bit about how that works? Sure, aren't we have a large load of criminal cases. And and that's due to the fact that people have rights to be defended by public defenders. And when they lose a trial, they have a right to have an appeal, pursued if they want it. And so when people are convicted of serious crimes, those usually entail serious sentences. And so they want, even if you said, a person, and I would be the same way, if I was convicted, and you told me I have a 5% chance of winning, I would say, let's go do it. Right. And so we see a large, large bit of that. And so it's it wouldn't be it uncommon, in any month on the court of appeals to have a number of criminal cases, from everything from, you know, larceny to murder.


Judge David Mortonson  08:06

So that's pretty frequent. The other side is what you said, is everything under the sun literally, if you don't if you don't like what the labor Commission does, with your workers compensation claim, you come to the Court of Appeals. If you don't like what a district court does, you end up coming to the Court of Appeals. If you don't like what a juvenile court judge? Does, you come to the Court of Appeals, so there's administrative stuff, all of the under the under but the lower courts, they all, they all come bring their appeals to us. So literally, in the legal realm, there is almost nothing that doesn't come to the appellate courts in general, including the Supreme Court. But most of that comes to the Court of Appeals. There are things that we can't hear, we cannot and this is by statute, legislature says this. We can't do judge discipline. That's only the Supreme Court. We can't do lawyer discipline. That's only the Supreme Court. We cannot hear death penalty cases. That's only the Supreme Court. And other than that, sometimes we're the court that you have to go to, and other what other times you can go to the Supreme Court, but they have the discretion to give it to us anyway. So we end up getting the first shot at almost all appellate matters, except for those ones that I just mentioned. I should throw in there elections cases we don't hear either. Those are usually extremely time sensitive. And so the Supreme Court handles those


Dr. Lynn Vartan  09:32

I know I've been so impressed over the years with the cases that we've been exposed to, you know, things like learning about livestock branding, and what goes into that, you know, and it's just, it sounds like such a learning experience all the time. 


Judge David Mortonson  09:47

Yeah, that's one of the best parts of the job is every case is different. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  09:52

Can you talk just a little bit for anybody who might not know what the process is like and you know how some cases have oral arguing and some don't. And then how that goes to decision and then to the written brief, 


Judge David Mortonson  10:06

You bet. In a nutshell, what most people hear about appellate decisions is either right after the trial gets done at somebody in the newspaper or on TV says we're going to appeal. And the next thing you hear is the decision. So it's a it's like an article in the newspaper saying coding pills and x are more often the, the Utah Supreme Court said something or the United States Supreme Court said something. Although I have to tell you the majority of time, nobody pays attention to what we do, except for the parties and some lawyers out there. And that's even true at the United States Supreme Court. They have controversial issues they rule on. But they rule on about 90 cases a year, the United States Supreme Court, my court does about seven to 800. Yeah, see, and you may see two or three in the newspaper, even with the US Supreme Court, what do you see 10 and another blockbuster, your 15. But that's 15 out of 90. Most of it they're ruling on like the bankruptcy rules and different things like that, that nobody really, even if they put the link on the website, nobody would click it, right. I mean, normal people don't look at a headline that says bankruptcy rules have been amended and think, wow, I really haven't read that. So most of the things that we do kind of fly under the radar, but the process is, like I said, somebody says we're going to appeal this and they file a notice of appeal. And the next thing they do is they file a document statement, which is tells us kind of a little bit about what this appeal is about. And it lets us verify that they appealed on time. In almost all cases, we have basically 30 days to appeal. And it's it's out there for everybody to know. But if you file on day 31, even if you have the most meritorious appeal that ever was, we will dismiss it. Because we don't have jurisdiction, we have jurisdiction from day one to day 30. We can hear your appeal, day 31, we have no power to even entertain it. So they have they file that document statement. And after we received that we send a briefing schedule to the parties say in your briefs due on this day, and then some dates from APA and each party files what's called a brief, which is a joke, because the one thing they're not is brief. Nowadays, we do a word limitation back in the back in the olden days, we would have a page limit. But it basically comes out to about 5560 pages plus out denims. And some cases, they ask us for permission to be a little bit longer than that. And we do that. We let them do that. But these these briefs are all, you know, 50 pages apiece, so then the judges at that point when they're all breathed. We look at the case and we decide. We think oral argument would help us on this because frankly, sometimes the appeals really aren't that difficult. And we don't think that listening to them tell us what they already wrote in their briefs is really going to help us that much. On the other hand, there's plenty of cases where we're like, you know what, they may help us understand this. And our questions can come sometimes help them see that we're not quite getting it. And then they can try to guide us. Although we have to tell you, when we talk about argument back 100 years ago on the Supreme Court, it was a social event and went on for hours. We time people nowadays and they have 15 minutes per side. And there's no way in that 15 minutes, they can go over as much as they can put down 50 pages of writing. So so much so much of it is dependent on the writing. So but if they do have the oral argument, we'll hear that argument either way, either right after argument or based upon the briefs, we will meet in a conference. The three judges read the case, and we'll express our opinions and take a preliminary vote. The decision on who's going to write the opinion is made by a computer completely random both at the court of appeals and and the Utah Supreme Court, which is different than the United States Supreme Court at the US Supreme Court if john roberts the Chief Justice is in the majority, he chooses who among the other majority members are going he's going to write the opinion. And then whoever's the most senior judge in the minority on the dissents, decides who's going to write the initial dissent, although every judge can write a separate dissent if they feel like it. So we go into it. Knowing beforehand this is the case I'm probably going to write the great majority of cases both in our court, the Utah Supreme Court, every United States Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court are either unanimous or close to unanimous. The only ones that get pressed are the controversial cases that are filed for those kinds of things. But most cases in most of our courts, everybody sees it the same way. And then we we take it under advisement, and we write an opinion and it usually takes anywhere from weeks to months. But to get that because because I'll write it out write it up. I'm, I've got three or four in the hopper at this moment. And when I think they're done, I will give it to the other people who heard my case. And they will look it over and they'll vote on it. And a very common vote on our court is I concur with suggestions. And not not just a few. And sometimes these set the suggestions aren't, you really need to rewrite half of this. And the most second most common vote in our court is concur conditionally with suggestions. So now I'm making my same suggestions. That conditionally means if you don't make if you don't go with my suggestions, we have a problem here. Oh, yeah, yeah. And then occasionally, you're just like, you know what, I'm never gonna go with you on this. And so I'm in a vote dissent. And then I write a separate dissent. I see. And then this is what starts a rather lengthy process, because if one judge writes a majority, and the next one writes a dissent, now we got to get that third vote, whoever the third person goes with now becomes the majority to the one. And if that is, yeah, so if the dissent gets the third votes, and now the dissent is the majority, so that that whole opinion has to be rewritten, because when I first submitted, I use the word I, I just said, I do this, but now I've got another vote, I gotta go change everything that we and maybe that judge has some input on. And I might have to change a couple of things to keep that judges vote. Uh huh. Right. And occasionally, this happens on every court, even the United States Supreme Court, occasionally, not enough. Judges agree. So maybe we'll have three opinions instead of just the two, just the major majority and the dissent in that case, that we decide the case, but but it has no precedential value, because we couldn't agree on anything. And occasionally, I happens at the Utah at the United States Supreme Court or the Utah Supreme Court as well. But there's not really a rule that two mounts because the three human minds going to get together. Fascinating. Yeah. That's so cool. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  17:08

Thank you so much for sharing that I. I mean, I just find the whole process fascinating. And it's just so awesome to hear, hear how it all works. I think this is a good time for our first musical break. We're going to get into more musical talk later, but in our sort of pre interview writings, you sent me some of your favorite things. And the first thing I'm going to play is one is, is a piece by handle, which is ombre my foo. And tell me why you love this piece. 


Judge David Mortonson  17:44

Well, it's it's just one of the most famous pieces that handle every wrote. And if you if you like watch Jane Austen films based on on her novels, this law wouldn't be playing in the background. Occasionally people even sing it. And then the recording that I sent you, I guess will tell the listeners before they'll think it's a woman. It's a countertenor, which is a man. Back in the day of handles day, it probably would have been castrati. Yes, right. Yeah. And this is as close as we get because that's illegal in most of the world nowadays. Yeah. But but it's a man and this this recording, essentially, this guy's got breath control beyond anything, so I just I like this tune. I like Baroque music generally as although you know, I like almost everything under the sun. But this was particularly a good recording of this piece. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  18:49

Perfect, and countertenor is Christopher Lowery, and so let's have a listen and you're listening to KSUU Thunder 91.1 All right, well welcome back everyone, that again was one of the most famous pieces by handle. That way you spell the title is ombra EMBRAMA I foo. That was Christopher Lowry. And it's from voices of music. And again, you're listening to KSUU Thunder 91.1. I am here with Judge David Mortensen. And we are talking about how things work in in the appeals court process in Utah and then also about music. So welcome back. Judge, thank you so much. We I wanted to ask you a little bit about how things have been this past year, we we celebrate this collaboration that we have with the appeals court, and how that usually involves you traveling to campus and being live and in person. But currently, the court is not traveling at all. And in fact, all of your oral arguments are heard virtually and I assume have been for some time. Right? I am curious about how that has changed the process. You know, I think we tend to think especially with trial courts, that body language and energy in the room and sort of passion getting all activated is a part of it. But I wondered how it felt for you all and what has been different and just some observations and reflections on that. 


Judge David Mortonson  23:58

Sure. We're a little bit proud of ourselves because the decision was made to suspend in person court in March of 2020. And we pivoted to virtual CT in 48 hours. Wow. Yeah, a huge I shouldn't brag the Supreme Court actually had to cancel some hearings. And then they got they got it together the next month, but we did it in two days. That's mostly bragging about the IT department at the core. They had to arrange it. But we figured out how to do it. And in a lot of ways, it's not any different than what we usually do. The party still have their same time the clock that I talked about is a separate screen now so everybody can see the clock really well. And we ask the questions The thing that changed is the the dynamic, the human dynamic. And it's interesting, you know, one of the things you talk about in trial courts sure you're looking at body language. But you do that in in appellate courts too. And lawyers sometimes can't help themselves. But when one guy is making the argument, the other lawyers rolling their eyes, right? can see that. In the virtual world, we asked, we asked the non arguing attorney to mute her microphone and her camera, so we can't even see. And we've actually received feedback from the lawyers that they really like that because they can then sit in their office and yell at the TV or whatever makes them happy while the other person's arguing and and we don't see it and doesn't make any difference. Or they can shout to a partner or a paralegal, hey, go find that thing they're talking about, you know. And I can tell that they sometimes are using multiple monitors, and they've got all sorts of data and, and argument stuff, helping them out which they would never have in real court. And so some of the lawyers of actually expressed to us that they wish we wouldn't go back, oh, we're probably going to make it a hybrid. We've learned so much, I and it's a big deal to reschedule an appellate argument because you've got three different judges, you have all the staff, you have powerful lawyers. And so in the past, we've taken our lives into our hands in a big snowstorm in Salt Lake for everybody to get to the courthouse and have this argument occasionally to start to half an hour late because of the snow. Now we know that we have the possibility the night before when there's a winter storm warning just to contact everybody and say you know what, it's on WebEx tomorrow we're not even doing it in court. So we've got this capability now or if somebody's sick, we have the ability to say stay where you are. And the other thing is, like I said the arguments 15 minutes and so we've had cases where both lawyers are in St. George coming to argue for 15 minutes of peace in Salt Lake and that's very pricy for their clients because their clients have to pay for them to drive up usually we argue in the morning so they stay the night before in a hotel and and so their clients are out 1000s of dollars for 15 minutes whereas if we gave them the option and they both said you know what, we'd rather do this virtually they can do it from their offices in St. George and the clients save all that money so it's really opened our eyes if you had asked us to do this as a kind of, you know, thinking outside the box, we'd have probably just told you all to get lost because because it had all that resistance from technology and and mainly we're just like everybody else we don't like stuff we're not used to and so but now we got used to it and so we're very open minded to doing hybrids keeping it we're having the courtroom retrofitted.  So that one or more of the parties or one of the more jet judges can appear virtually, if that's what needs to happen so we can do it either all virtually all in person and now we're going to be able to do it kind of a hybrid of both so that we learned a lot there. The thing it doesn't do is there there is a human dynamic between the judges sometimes on the bench. I can only you think you can look at multiple screens on a zoom call or WebEx call but you really can't you've kind of are using peripheral vision if you know what I mean. Yeah, no, but on the bench I can really feel if somebody to my right is itching to get in there and ask a question sometimes I'll back off because I can tell they really wanted to get in there. It's been a tradition on my mom when she first saw me at the Court of Appeals she thought it was kind of a rude thing, but we interrupt lawyers mercilessly because we have questions we want them as well just interrupt them mid sentence that is actually not happened virtually. We now raise our hand and if they don't see us raising our hand because they're too buried in their notes and eventually we might say excuse me, but that's question and lawyers want to know our questions because it's a fool for a lawyer who doesn't want to get into the judges judges brain if they can but anyway, that's that's those kinds of things those dynamics and like I said, we can't see the opposing counsel we used to be able to watch the lawyer and see them wince or smile or whatever and we just don't see that anymore. So there's that that human side's missing and most of the judges would like to get back to that Yeah. But like I said, we're not close minded to think that if it's a benefit we can keep doing what we're doing. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  29:47

Yeah I this morning you know, we we heard the case is virtually and and and absolutely it was different, but so interesting, and actually just focusing on one person at a time, rather than the scope of the room was really fascinating. 


Judge David Mortonson  30:05

Different, isn't it? 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  30:06

Yeah, very different. Yes. Well, thank you for sharing that. And I have another question that I'd love to ask you about. And one of the things that's always so striking to me and so inspiring when I am at these events and hear the oral arguments is the, the care, the attention, and the sensitivity and the depth of the civil discourse that we witness from all of you. And that's been a topic that's come up on campus quite a lot, and, of course, has been in the media a lot in the last year is is about the sort of decay of civil discourse. And that's something I know we're addressing on campus. And I wondered if you might comment on your thoughts and opinions about how how, from your perspective in your career that plays out and what advice you might have for a campus or anyone wanting to kind of maybe elevate the state of civil discourse in their organization? 


Judge David Mortonson  31:22

Sure. I'll try to unpack all that. Sorry, no, no, no, it's a great question. It just it as you're stating your question, it was bringing up all sorts of thoughts but but the first one was, I was thinking of a speech given by Chief Justice Matthew Duran when the proud new Provo courthouse, it's a 90,000 square foot courthouse and Provos got, you know, stacks of courtrooms and a lot of business gets done there. I mean, he was dedicated in the building and giving a speech and he remarked on the irony, that we've come to a place where the most civil dialogue that happens in society is the space that we set aside for our most vigorous disputes the courts and and it is remarkable. Because we and I guess the answer is why it's this way, is we don't tolerate incivility right. And will will interrupt you and tell you to stop that like if you're yelling or use profanity, or you say something disparaging effect. It's kind of against, there's not a rule but it's definitely against the unwritten rules. And it's enforced that you don't talk to the other lawyer, he talked to the court right and if you start talking to the other lawyer will interrupt you and say, please press the court, not the other side. But if you use disparaging remarks, we'll just shut you down. And if you if you refuse to play by the rules, we will silence you we will you will, you will lose your right to talk we're happy to listen to every argument you have to make or that you want to make but it must be done in a simple way we're just not going to accept it any other way. And we understand that civil discourse makes for the best decision making and so does absolute you know, as close as we can get to absolute truth so you can spew whatever you want in a courtroom. But the next question from the judges Show me your proof, right? And so those two things together makes it a an interesting space and now a kind of a beautiful space.  So I I don't know that there's an answer to how we get that out in the greater society other than self policing and and people being self aware of the you know, their own actions and how how they communicate you know, the the moment that you realize that anger is a weakness, and that you actually and you can go look, there's great papers on this. You actually think worse when you're mad. your brains actually impaired, you're basically brain damage. So if you let yourself get angry, you're not thinking straight. And I think the moment you realize that I don't, you know, go Buddhist, whatever you want, get some Dao, get centered, get peaceful, you'll be a better thinker. And in the law, you'll actually end up winning more, because because you're thinking better. But one of the other things is is judges habit. We have a court of appeals, we say that we don't take ourselves seriously, but we take the work very seriously. It's a great place, the personalities, but we don't we don't hold back at all. If we tell if we think somebody is not right. We'll just say it. I can tell you a story of I was brand new on the court. There were three judges on the panel, one of the other judges was brand new as well. And that the other judge was very, very seasoned, and we get back in the conference. And he was the proposed assigned writer. So he said, This is what I think. And he had three main points. And then they got done. And he turned to me and he said, Dave, what do you think? And I said, Well, I'm sorry. But I categorically disagree with everything. You just said, wow. And he didn't miss a beat. He turned it a constant. What do you think? And she hesitated, and she said, Well, I'm with Dave. The interesting thing is he didn't at that point, say, well, then I'm out of here, or, or you got, you know, the usual thing we see online nowadays, which is, you know, you're an idiot. Instead, he said, Well, tell me why. And so we explained the whole thing. And he says, that's interesting. I didn't really see it that way. It kind of sounds like he might be right. Let me try to write it up that way. And if I can do it, then we'll all be on the same page. Two weeks later, he came back and he said, here's my draft. And boy, you guys, right? But it's just because we, we never take for granted, or we never assume that we're right. Wait, we have what we call the lane. And people say, what do you think of this case? Well, so this is I'm leaning this way, right? That's the lean. We never say this is where I am. And I am not going to leave. Right? Because Because once you announced that your position is intractable, now it's about you. Yeah. Right. Now I gotta defend myself, I can't change my mind. That's one of the good parts about the fact that all of our deliberations are behind closed doors and not out in public. Because we have the freedom to say, Oh, dang, I was really convinced of one thing, but turns out, I'm wrong. Right? Yeah.


Dr. Lynn Vartan  36:45

Well, I incredibly respect that. I do think it's just beautiful. This space that had that comes from this, and I so love hearing about that kind of discourse, that kind of thoughtful process and being able to have your mind changed and listen to others. I just think that that is amazing. And it's such an inspiring thing for us all to hear right now. So thank you for that. 


Judge David Mortonson  37:19

I just, I don't, but I don't think it's a one off. I think if we all want to we can live our lives this way. Yeah. Yeah, we can't, we can't. We can't do it the way the online discourse is usually happening. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  37:35

Yeah. Well, let's see what happens. I think its a beautiful thing to think about. And now it's time for some more music. So you shared with me and artists who I didn't know, and we have a cover of my favorite things that the very famous song by Joey Alexander, tell me how you came across Joey. He's so young? 


Judge David Mortonson  38:03

Yeah, well, the main thing is, once again, YouTube, I have a treadmill that I should use more than I do, that I let I let my YouTube run pretty freely. And so the algorithm based on what I've listened to in the past is suggesting stuff. Um, Joey is from Indonesia. And you may know a very famous trumpet player his back east. Winton, Marcellus. Yes. Right. Winton found Joey on YouTube. Oh, and flew him out. And I think that Joey's first gig was at the Lincoln Center. And when he got done, and kind of an attorney played, I think it was midnight sun. He just got up and walk offstage. He was 12 years old. And the band stood up and clapped for him and went and had to say, hey, come back here. They don't they don't stand and clap for everybody. Right? And he's just amazing. I saw him in Salt Lake two years ago, he's gonna play this spring, if you have to follow the jazz. You know, the jazz monthly jazz concert. That's good to put it on at the Capitol theater. Right? I think he's January or February. Okay. He's all the 15 now, 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  39:18

I mean, I was so surprised. I mean, because I they started and I was hearing it and then I was doing other things when I got the music going. And then I looked at the screen and I just thought, who is this kid? You know, because sometimes with these young artists you don't you maybe don't hear the maturity that you hear in Joey. 


Judge David Mortonson  39:40

He's such an old soul. You close your eyes and he sounds like Oscar Peterson or Kenny Barron. And one of the more you know, way season Yeah, jazz players. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  39:51

Well, we, because we want to get back to talking we won't listen to the whole tune, but this is Joey Alexander, who you can find on YouTube and this is his version of my favorite things. You're listening to Kay, SUU Thunder 91.1. All right, everyone. Well, we could listen to that all day. But I'm going to fade that out and tell you a little bit more again. That's Joey Alexander. And it's a cover of my favorite things, just amazing artists and depth. But speaking of a musical artists, we have judge Mortensen here and you are a musical artists as well. And I know your background from our conversations. But can you share with us a little bit about your musical life? 


Judge David Mortonson  44:19

Well, my family's pretty musical. My father was a professional drummer and a high school music teacher. When I was young, he would be gone every Friday and Saturday night playing gigs in Oakland or San Francisco, we lived in the Bay Area, California. So I was mostly raised on jazz. I really didn't know about the existence of rock and roll really that much until I was maybe 12. Because my house was full of jazz and I would go to live jazz shows and I was grew up in Concord, California where the Concord jazz label is and back in those days, they have the compet jazz festival 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  45:00

I know it well, 


Judge David Mortonson  45:02

just down the street and we used to go to that all the time. I think my first concert was Buddy Rich at age three. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  45:08



Judge David Mortonson  45:09

And so that's that's the house I was raised in and I course had musical training young piano like all other torture children, and played the trombone and bands all the way through college and eventually switch to the law so that I could feed my family but you know, it's, it's, it's still a thing in my soul, I guess, way to say it. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  45:35

Yeah, we were just talking while the music was playing that, that you have music playing in the office all the time. 


Judge David Mortonson  45:42

Yeah. And you have to be ready, you have to be ready for it because I can switch from classical to pretty hard rock and in a nanosecond, just depending on my mood. So I could go from handle to Joey Alexander to Pink Floyd, to punk rock, country music, all one after another. So you have to hold on to your chair and in my office, and we're gonna pull the guitar off the wall and start playing 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  46:15

well, that's what I was gonna ask you. So you have a guitar and you play in the office sometimes? What does that do for you? 


Judge David Mortonson  46:23

Well, just if I if I, if I just need to sit and think, then I'll pull the power off and start playing well, I'm thinking before I decide, you know what to do next, as far as sometimes you just need to think things through and I need to kind of mull it over for five minutes. And so the guitar gives my fingers something to do while my brain is going. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  46:43

So you're able to think and play or have music going while thinking about other things. It sounds like I 


Judge David Mortonson  46:52

yeah, it's strange. My wife thinks it's really weird. I, if I'm reading, I prefer to have the television on. Like with a documentary, or something like that. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  47:07

I wonder why do you do you have any sense of what that's about?


Judge David Mortonson  47:11

And maybe I have a hard time paying attention. I don't I don't know. I'm the music. You know, there can be music that's distracting if it's a piece that I performed, and it was hard. Or this will be kind of strange. If you have musicians, you'll know what I'm talking about. But I was a horn player. And so if I'm listening to jazz 10, and the soloist goes real high, involuntarily. I will brace my abdomen muscles. Ah, yeah, I'm, I'm doing with him. Yeah, and even sometimes purse my lips a little bit. Just sometimes I'll catch myself doing it. Think well, that's weird. But I played all those years. I mean, I, during my beginning of college, I was actually a music major. And I was like in seven performing groups, and I toured Europe with a jazz band. And so I played a lot. So those that muscle memory hasn't gone anywhere in 30 years. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  48:12

Do you feel like your musical training or musical knowledge contributes to what you do as a judge? I mean, is there any parallels, takeaways, bridges? 


Judge David Mortonson  48:24

Well, there is a little bit because what my whole life now centers around language I'm trying to communicate. And I think there's a pretty close connection between language and music. I think that music has a cadence. And good writing has a cadence. Everybody knows bad. Most people don't know good writing when they see it, because they don't notice it. But everybody knows bad writing. hurts. Yeah, but yeah, read that sentence twice to see what that person is saying. Right? So that kind of thing. I think there's a musical element to language. So in that I think there's probably a little bit of parallel. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  49:07

Fantastic. Well, I think we can get to one more of the two that you sent, and one is Jacob Collier and the other snarky puppy. I I know it's hard to pick between those. They're both amazing. But I think I'd love to know more about why you like Jacob Collier and how you kind of came to know his music and why you sent this one to me. 


Judge David Mortonson  49:33

Which one did I send you? I can't remember. So it was the Tiny Desk concert? Oh, yeah. Well, cuz it and it's the ladder, tiny guess it's where he's playing for parts, right? Yeah. So this kid, he's a kid. He's 23 or whatever he is. He already has multiple Grammys. And in fact, if you watch closely, he plays the Grammy and he actually knocks the bell of the Grammy and it's in tune He's, he's just on a different planet. And I know that sometimes he goes a little bit overboard with things. But everything else he's doing, it's just so awesome. And he actually nixed that video himself. He did it. That's his. That's his music room in his house in London. And he does this whole thing for the Tiny Desk series at NPR. And I just, it just kind of blew my mind. I don't, I don't know. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  50:27

Yeah. Cool. Well, we'll play a little bit of that. And then when we come back, I just have my last final question. Our time has gone by so quickly. But this is Jacob Collier is part of his Tiny Desk concert. And again, we'll just give you a little taste of it. So you can hear what we're talking about. You're listening to K SUU Thunder 91.1. That was Jacob Collier in his Tiny Desk, home concert. And one of the things that is absolutely so cool about that, you definitely have to check it out. The visual entity of what he's done on stage is his room looks completely seamless. And then there's just four versions of him in it. So definitely check that check that out. And we are in the studio with Judge David Mortonson, and we've been talking about the Utah appeals court process, but we've also been talking about music. And then the one that we didn't get to was snarky puppy. And so I'd love to know why do you love snarky puppy? I mean, I also love snarky puppy. But what is it about them? Is it the brass?


Judge David Mortonson  53:34

I like, I like the improvisation. I like their backstory. It's probably apocryphal and not even true. But I heard I know part is true. And that's the bass player who formed the group. He they were all going to North Texas State of big music school. And they were signing or auditioning for combos, and he didn't get in one. So you post this thing. So I don't know how many of the people in the band are rejects you didn't, that the teachers didn't pick to win. But now this group's you know, winning Grammys had to go out on their own and do their thing. I love that story. And I just love what they I like the improvisation. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  54:14

North Texas is famous for having jazz bands on the clock, one o'clock jazz band, two o'clock jazz band, three o'clock band, four o'clock band. And they all have different kind of levels. And if you don't make one of those bands, then I suppose you could make snarky puppy. 


Judge David Mortonson  54:32

Yeah, I don't know if that's true, but I like the story your way. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  54:36

It's a great story. Well, I have one last question for you. And it's a question I asked all of my guests and it's just sort of a fun playful question. And that's what's turning you on this week. And it could be anything it could be another musical artists. It could be a book, you're reading a TV show or movie or a favorite food. So judge what is turning you on this week? 


Judge David Mortonson  55:02

Well, not surprisingly, it's a little bit of music and comes and goes, but I'm this week back on to the punch brothers bluegrass. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  55:10

Awesome. Oh my gosh. So is that been playing in the office? 


Judge David Mortonson  55:15

That has been playing in the office? Yes. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  55:18

Do you have a favorite album? 


Judge David Mortonson  55:20

I've been mainly watching some YouTube full length concerts. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  55:25

How cool 


Judge David Mortonson  55:26

they do covers. Have you ever watched some that? classical music? Mm hmm. That stuff's amazing. They do. Bach. Debussy. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  55:38

Yeah. So amazing, 


Judge David Mortonson  55:40

spectacular. So that, yeah, 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  55:42

they're fantastic if you if you haven't had a chance to check them out. And again, just kind of a bit of genre bending. And it seems that I mean, your the depth and breadth of your ear is drawn to that, which is awesome. 


Judge David Mortonson  55:57

Like anything, anything. That's awesome.


Dr. Lynn Vartan  56:00

That's fantastic. Well, I want to say thank you so much for the time that you spent today. I I know it's above and beyond to sort of spend the time sharing in this outreach with the university and with this program. So thank you so much for being here. 


Judge David Mortonson  56:17

No problem. 


Dr. Lynn Vartan  56:18

All right, everyone. Well that's it for us. We will see you next week on the apex hour



thanks so much for listening to the apex our here on KSUU Thunder 91.1. can find this again next Thursday at 3pm for more conversations with the visiting guests at Utah University, and new music to discover for your next playlist. And in the meantime, we would love to see you at our events on campus. To find out more, check out suu.edu slash APEX. Until next week, this is Lynn Vartan saying goodbye from the apex our here on Thunder 91.1