Robert Hilder served for 16 years as a judge in Utah’s Third District Court, graduated from the University of Utah and was an adjunct professor of law at the U. Hilder died April 26 of complications from esophageal cancer after being diagnosed in February. The judge was 67 years old.
He was born in Sydney, Australia, on May 13, 1949. Hilder — one of four children — left an abusive home at age 15, working odd jobs to get by.
When Hilder was 24, he began meeting with missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hilder then served a two-year LDS mission in southern Australia.
Hilder married a woman he met on his LDS mission, and the couple migrated to the United States. in 1977. Between his first and second marriages, Hilder had five children and two step-children.
“He always had a little bit of an accent, which made you sort of sit up and take notice,” said Paul Cassell, a law professor at the U. “Then you realized that he was a keen observer of the American legal system and American law.”
After coming to the U.S., Hilder attended school at the U. He was actively involved with student organizations such as the fraternity Phi Beta Kappa. Hilder graduated less than three years after his acceptance to the U in 1979 with a degree in political science. Later, he enrolled in the law school and earned a Juris Doctorate in 1984. He served on the Utah Law Review for the following two years.
During his career in law, Hilder served in many capacities. Some of those roles included three years on the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee, six years on the Utah Judicial Council and the Council’s Management Committee, two years as Third District Court Associate Presiding Judge, and he was Third District Court Presiding Judge from 2007 until his passing. Hilder was also involved with the Family Law Section of the Utah State Bar, he was a member of the Grand Jury Panel of judges for nine years, and taught pre-trial practice at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.
“I’ve always been very impressed by his legal acumen and the way he carried himself,” Cassell said.
Legal professionals acquainted with Hilder were all fond of the warmth his personality brought to what can be perceived as the cold world of law.
“Judge Hilder was one of those rare judges where even if you walked out of his courtroom losing the case, you left like you had a fair hearing,” Cassell said. “That’s not something that happened every day.”
Hilder has been praised for his moral character for years.
A 2001 a Los Angeles Times article quoted prosecutors and defense attorneys as having said, “[There] probably is no more decent person in the legal profession than Judge Hilder.”
That article showed Hilder’s style of judging in an excerpt that said, “In one well-publicized case, Hilder sent a child molester to prison against all recommendations. Yet in another case, he spared a teenage boy who’d somehow accelerated his car into a crowd, killing two people. Hilder knew he should lock him up, but what he saw before him was a sweet kid he just couldn’t send to jail.”
Even after his death, Hilder’s compassion is still the first thing that his colleagues remember.
Cassell said, “He was very much someone who could humanize our criminal and civil justice system in a way that I think is sometimes overlooked.”