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From South Fremont High sophomore, finding inspiration in To Kill a Mockingbird, to district judge of the Seventh Judicial District of Idaho, Gregory Moeller has, once again, become one of four finalists for a seat in the Idaho Supreme Court.
The seat was left vacant after Justice Warren E. Jones retired from court last year. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter will appoint one of the four candidates chosen by the Idaho Judicial Council to serve the remainder of Jones’ term.
Q: What is the story of how you became a lawyer?
A: When I was a young man, probably about 14 or 15, a sophomore in high school, we saw the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. I still remember like it was yesterday. There is a scene where there is the trial of Tom Robinson. Atticus, the attorney, was putting his papers away, and he turned to leave the courtroom. The moment he turned to leave the courtroom, all of the black folks stood in unison as he walked out, which is unusual in court. The little girl (Atticus’ daughter) said, “Why is everybody standing up for my daddy?” And the black minister said, “Because your father is passing.” When I saw that, I felt a chill go up my spine, and I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And, I knew, at that moment, I was going to be a lawyer. I just knew, and I also knew that someday, like Atticus, I would be called upon to represent somebody in a big case that I thought was innocent. Because of that experience, it prompted me to focus my academics towards law school.
Q: How did you get to this place in your career?
A: I was an attorney in Rexburg for 19 years, from 1990 to 2009. And then in 2009, I was appointed to be district judge by Gov. Otter. The process to be appointed as a district judge is very similar to the process I am going through right now. There were a bunch of candidates. We all applied. We were interviewed by the Judicial Council. They selected two of us, then the governor picked from those two.
The process for Supreme Court required me to apply, and I was among 14 applicants. I was the only one from Eastern Idaho. Last Monday, I was interviewed by the Judicial Council. Then, on Wednesday morning, they announced I was one of the four finalists. It’s the second time I have been through this process. Last summer, I was also a finalist for the Supreme Court, one of the four finalists.
Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
A: Nineteen years as an attorney, I am most known for representing a man that I believed was innocent. I kept fighting. The last five years I fought for him, I worked for him pro bono (for free). After 15 years, we got his conviction overturned, and he was released.
Another big case I had involved Madison County. Back in 2001 and 2002, they were redistricting the state of Idaho. They basically divided Madison County into two, which would have completely taken away any political influence that Madison County had in the legislature. So, I was hired by a group of citizens to fight that, and we were able to successfully overturn the redistricting plan and keep Madison County as an individual unit.
Q: How do you feel about being a candidate for the Idaho Supreme Court again?
A: It’s an honor to be picked again as a finalist. The group of candidates this time was very deep. The 14 candidates were just really solid. Just because I was a finalist before, it didn’t mean I was going to be a finalist again. And, so, I was very honored to be picked again.
Q: What do you do now as a district judge?
A: I preside over cases in 10 different counties, ranging from Blackfoot, all the way up to Salmon, all the way to Fremont County and St. Anthony. Most of my cases are in three counties: Madison, Fremont and Teton. As a district judge, I preside over felonies, so felonies are the most serious cases, cases where the maximum punishment is more than one year in prison and more than a $1,000 fine. Everything else is a misdemeanor or an infraction. I tend to get the more serious cases like murders, rapes, grand thefts and those kinds of cases. I also preside over civil cases when people are suing each other and there is more than $10,000 involved.
So, the job I am applying for on the Supreme Court would be a state-wide position, in which I would hear appeals from cases over the entire state of Idaho.
Q: What made you want to apply for the position on the Idaho Supreme Court?
A: I am applying for this job on the Supreme Court because I feel I can make a difference to a bigger group of people than I am now. Although, I think I am in a position now to do a lot of good, and I really enjoy what I am doing now. I am not doing this job because I want to leave here. I love being a judge in Madison County. I think it’s the best district judge job in the state. I am very, very honored to have this job, and I will miss it if I leave it. I have worked hard for nine years to make a difference here, and I think if I was on the Supreme Court, I could do the same thing to a lot bigger group of people and make a difference for the whole state, not just this region.