From Provo to Peru: Judge Rick Romney (’82)

By Ashleigh Wilson April 3, 2024

After nearly 40 years of public service to Provo City, Judge Vernon “Rick” Romney (‘82) retired from service in December of 2023. A Provo native and proud BYU Law alumnus, Judge Romney makes it clear that nothing is more important than recognizing and appreciating the people around him, especially in the legal sphere. Judge Romney’s unique people-centered focus is evident in his capacity as both criminal prosecutor and judge.  

It was the profoundly human stories Judge Romney heard that planted the seeds of interest in pursuing a legal education.  Though Judge Romney had a vision for his future, he found law school incredibly challenging. Learning from criminal law Professor Woody Deem is a bright memory for him in the midst of the drudgery of study and classes. Judge Romney credits Professor Deem’s class as the force that led him to eventually feel comfortable in the courtroom. One activity in particular, in which students would be recorded and then watch themselves as they recited cases in the courtroom, helped him grow out of his comfort zone and develop a love for the law and a love for the courtroom.

The courtroom provided him an environment to watch the interesting things people do and observe the way the courts handle them. Judge Romney had the opportunity to listen intently to many of these stories when he clerked for Utah’s Attorney General as a bright young law student. He found the narratives people shared fascinating and inspiring, especially those found in criminal law. He also felt compelled to serve a community of real people he could see and interact with regularly.

Upon graduating from BYU Law School, Judge Romney worked part-time for a small firm in Orem and there realized he wanted to pursue a career in prosecution. His part-time job quickly became full-time, and he soon began working for Provo City as a prosecutor. “As a city prosecutor, things move very quickly,” Judge Romney remembers. “I tried to remember that you're dealing with real life people and real life issues.” Judge Romney recognized that the courtroom is often seen as an intimidating and nerve-wracking place for all – lawyers, witnesses, plaintiffs, and defendants alike. To calm his clients and co-workers’ fears, Judge Romney strove to make it a comfortable experience for all with whom he worked. “We’re not dealing with widgets; we’re dealing with human beings, and they merit our attention and our best efforts in solving their case,” he remarked. “They aren’t bad people; many of them have made mistakes and done something bad, but they are human.”

After working as a prosecuting attorney for 22 years, Judge Romney was nominated to be a Justice Court Judge, serving on the bench for 16 years. However, his desire to connect with and serve others has extended to other realms far beyond his career. His efforts have included serving as the President of the Central Utah Bar, the Chair of the Utah Board of Justice Court Judges, the Utah 4th District Justice Court Presiding Judge, and serving on both the Education Committee and the Utah Prosecution Council. 

While working as a judge, Judge Romney quickly recognized that mystery is often the main cause of fear. To address this issue, he sought to eliminate this mystery from the courtroom. “When you’re a judge, you can give back in a way that other lawyers can’t by inviting the community into your courtroom. The more you can have outreach and reduce the mystery of the courtroom, the more satisfied and comfortable those you work with will be.” In an effort to increase familiarity with the courtroom and the legal process, Judge Romney has visited many schools and given countless tours of the courtroom. “Come on in and see what we do,” he encourages. “It makes us do our work better.”

Judge Romney also encourages apprehensive law students to give the courtroom a chance, especially those students who come to law school already determined to avoid the courtroom, anticipating not liking it. “The courtroom is just like anything else,” he insists. “The more you practice, the more time you spend there, the more you get used to it.” 

Although he is now retired, Judge Romney doesn’t plan to just sit back and relax. Throughout his career, he regularly hiked the Y at 6:15 a.m., and he maintained this habit, but now after sleeping in until 6:30, until becoming a missionary again.  He enjoyed a few brief weeks of retirement, spending time with his family and watching BYU sports, until he and his wife, Yevon, left in February 2024 for Lima, Peru to serve a full-time mission. Romney is serving as an Assistant Area Legal Counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the same place that he served as a missionary from 1974 to 1976. “It has been a whirlwind of activity and steep learning curve working here,” he writes of returning to his mission almost 50 years later. “Many things have changed for the better. Where there was only one stake here, there are now well over one hundred. One mission has become fourteen. It is nice to know that the early missionaries here planted some pretty good seeds.” 

Whether in Peru or Provo, Judge Romney is excited to take his skills learned from the legal profession to once again put people first, and in so doing, make his community, and the world, a better place.