Carolyn McHugh - Alliance for Justice

Carolyn McHugh

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

  • Court Circuit Court

On May 16, 2013, President Obama nominated Carolyn McHugh to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. When confirmed, she will serve in the seat vacated by Judge Michael R. Murphy, who took senior status on December 31, 2012. ((Thomas Burr, Obama Names Utah State Judge to 10th Circuit Bench, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE (May 16, 2013), Judge McHugh currently serves as Presiding Judge of the Utah Court of Appeals, following her appointment by Governor Jon Huntsman in August 2005. She enjoys the support of Utah’s Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. Both Senators applauded President Obama’s nomination of Judge McHugh to serve on the Tenth Circuit and encouraged her speedy confirmation.


Judge McHugh was born in Abington Township, Pennsylvania. ((Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire, available at, p. 1.)) She spent her youth in Massachusetts, Delaware, and Utah. McHugh graduated magna cum laude from the University of Utah in 1978, and received her juris doctorate from the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law in 1982. As a law student, she was an editor of the Utah Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif. Upon graduation, Judge McHugh served as a law clerk to Judge Bruce S. Jenkins of the United States District Court for the District of Utah. After her clerkship, Judge McHugh was a shareholder at the Utah law firm of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless until her appointment to the state bench in 2005. She also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

In 2005, then-Governor Jon Huntsman appointed Judge McHugh to the Utah Court of Appeals. She has handled more than 1,100 criminal and civil cases and has issued 285 opinions since her appointment. After retaining her seat in Utah’s non-partisan judicial elections in 2009, Judge McHugh is currently the Presiding Judge of the Utah Court of Appeals.

Legal Experience and Expertise

In private practice, Judge McHugh specialized in civil litigation before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. Her practice ranged from antitrust defense to construction disputes, real estate, commercial fraud, and general corporate litigation. She also developed particular expertise in environmental litigation, especially with regulations implementing federal law under the Superfund Act, Clean Air Act, and other similar statutes.

Judge McHugh’s clients included a wide variety of major corporate and industrial clients. In her substantial pro bono practice prior to joining the state bench, Judge McHugh volunteered in criminal prosecutions of minor offenses, represented prisoners in habeas petitions, participated in family dispute litigation, and served as a guardian ad litem. She also handled criminal records expungement for low-income clients.

As a Utah Court of Appeals judge since 2005, McHugh has overseen more than 1,000 cases. Approximately one-third of these cases were criminal, and the other two-thirds were civil cases ranging from interpretation of the Utah Constitution to product liability disputes. She has also ruled on cases involving victims’ liability to rescue workers who sustain injuries responding to emergency situations, ((Fordham v. Oldroyd, 131 P.3d 280 (Utah Ct. App. 2006).)) and the extent of Confrontation Clause rights for defendants facing sexual crimes allegations. ((State v. Marks, 262 P.3d 13 (Utah Ct. App. 2011).))

The American Bar Association gave Judge McHugh its highest possible rating of unanimously well-qualified to serve as a federal appellate judge.

Professional and Community Activities

Throughout her legal career, Judge McHugh has been actively involved in community service organizations and participated in local and national bar activities.

Judge McHugh currently is a trustee of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake and of the Salt Lake County Bar Association. She is a member of the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission and the Utah Commission on Character and Civic Education, and chairperson or co-chairperson of various Utah and American Bar Association committees. Judge McHugh also served as President, and later Judicial Representative, of the Women Lawyers of Utah.

Judge McHugh has been honored with the Christine M. Durham Woman Lawyer of the Year Award by the Utah State Bar in 2009 and the Dorothy Merrill Brothers Award for the Advancement of Women in the Profession in 2001. In 2009, she was named a fellow in the Advanced Science and Technology Adjudication Resource Center of the United States Department of Justice.