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The City Journals

Unexpected death, family move forcing Taylorsville City to replace two key people

Sep 08, 2020 02:59PM ● By Carl Fauver

Judge Michael Kwan began serving the Taylorsville Justice Court in 1998. (Courtesy Utah State Courts)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Twice during a recent Taylorsville City Council meeting, Chairwoman Meredith Harker said “2020 is the year of change.” Between our never-ending pandemic and the city’s decision to part ways with the Unified Police Department, that proclamation had already been true for a couple of months. But more recently, city officials now find themselves unexpectedly having to fill two key positions.

First, on July 21, the Honorable Michael Wei Kwan, 58, passed away at his home of natural causes. He had been the only Justice Court Judge Taylorsville City had ever employed, serving since 1998.

Then just days later, veteran Taylorsville City Councilmember Brad Christopherson announced his resignation from that body, due to a family move just barely outside his District 3 council area, into Murray. A former chair and current vice-chair of the council, Christopherson had served the five-member body 7 1/2 years.

These changes leave city officials now following two different tracks to replace them. The city council seat is expected to be filled by the end of September. But officials say, Kwan may not be replaced on the judicial court bench until early next year.  

“Judge Kwan was a good man and a good judge—fair to everyone,” said Taylorsville City Attorney Tracy Cowdell. “He believed everyone could change regardless of the circumstances of their life. I was shocked to hear of his passing, particularly because he never took a sick day in the entire time I have worked for the city. I will miss him professionally and personally.”

Cowdell explained it is now up to the Administrative Office of the Courts to accept applications for the position and to form a committee to review those applications. That committee will then refer only the most qualified candidates to Taylorsville Mayor Kristie Overson. She will then interview the candidates by herself or select her own group to join in the interviews before making a final selection.

“This process for selecting judges is highly respected in other states, and your likelihood of getting a very good jurist is high,” Cowdell said. “However, it can be time consuming. Even after the new judge is selected, he or she will have to undergo extensive training before taking the bench. My best guess is, it will be late this year—or perhaps into 2021—before our new judge is hearing cases.”

Kwan leaves his wife of 26 years, Jennifer, and adult children Elizabeth and Richard. After passing the Utah bar, Kwan worked as a Salt Lake City prosecutor and served as Pro Tempore Judge in 3rd District Court from 1996 to 1998. He then became the first municipal judge appointed to the Taylorsville Justice Court.

According to his obituary, “Michael was an active member of the community on many levels. He founded several social justice, community and advocacy organizations and served countless others in a myriad of ways.”

“Michael’s professional career was marked by innovation,” the obituary continues. “His honors and awards are plentiful. Among these, he started one of the first DUI/drug courts in the nation in 1998. The program was honored in 2008 with the Governor’s Award for reducing drug and alcohol abuse-related crimes. It has been used as a prototype for other courtrooms across the country.” 

A funeral procession on Redwood Road and 5400 South carried Kwan’s remains to Taylorsville City Hall where he laid in state. Among the judge’s several other survivors is his sister Karen Kwan, who has served Taylorsville residents in the Utah House of Representatives District 34 seat since 2017.

“He was good-humored and good-natured, and really cared about our community,” Overson said. “It will be difficult to find a judge of his caliber.”

Thankfully, the other recent loss to Taylorsville City is not due to tragedy but to opportunity. With a wife and three children, ages 10 to 15, Christopherson said his family needed a little more room and a three-car garage.

“We actually made offers on some homes (in city council District 3) but were not able to close those deals,” he said. “The home we finally found is just barely outside my district, but it is over the border into Murray.”

Originally elected by the other city council members to file a vacated position, Christopherson joined the body Feb. 1, 2013. His final city council meeting was on Aug. 19.

A Taylorsville High School (1996) and University of Utah (2004) graduate, Christopherson has been a practicing attorney for more than a decade. He currently serves as the contracted city attorney for two different communities, in Davis and Summit counties.

“Brad has been a great city council member who really knows his stuff,” Overson said. “He is very effective and influential on the council. He brought a lot of expertise, and I am sad to see him go. I will miss my association with him.” 

Residents of city council District 3 (in Taylorsville City’s southeast corner) have until Sept. 9 to submit an application to replace Christopherson. Council members are then expected to hear from the candidates and elect his replacement during a special meeting, Sept. 30, in council chambers.

Meantime, Christopherson said he has not ruled out someday seeking an elected position on the Murray City Council, the Salt Lake County Council or elsewhere.

“I like to say, some people golf; I city council,” he said. “I don’t accept any individual credit for our accomplishments, because we work as a team. I am pleased with many of our economic development accomplishments. And I am so glad to see the performing arts center being completed. We were working on that project from the day I started on the council.”