ST. GEORGE – The Utah State Bar is honoring Washington County’s Barbara G. Hjelle with the Dorathy Merrill Brothers Award for professionalism, public service and public dedication which has enhanced the advancement of women in the legal profession and in the administration of justice.
“I feel very honored,” Hjelle said. “I would never have expected it, it came as a surprise to me and I am very gratified that somebody would think of me in this way. I’m thrilled to believe that I’ve helped my fellow female lawyers.”
Hjelle was Washington County’s first resident female attorney, a news release from the state bar said, and currently serves as the associate general manager and counsel for the Washington County Water Conservancy District. She oversees in-house legal work, records management and customer service and provides general assistance to the general manager.
Hjelle said she went into law after meeting her husband, a second-year law student at the time, who was helping ordinary people with issues such as age discrimination and home foreclosures.
“I think I originally went into the practice of law when I realized from certain events in my life that lawyers could really do a lot to help people, everyday people,” Hjelle said.
“I ended up having a very good career and certainly I believe that what I’m doing today is extremely important to the people of our community. Having a clean, safe water supply that’s reliable, is – short of air – it’s the No. 1 thing you need to survive. So I feel very, very lucky to have been able to serve my community the way I have.”
Prior to joining the water district, Hjelle worked in private practice and managed the Washington County Office of Special Counsel for Environmental and Public Lands Issues.
Hjelle graduated cum laude from the University of New Mexico School of Law in May 1985 and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of New Mexico. She currently serves as chair of the National Water Resources Association Policy Development Committee and on the Resolutions Committee of the Colorado River Water Users Association.
Hjelle is a past member of the State and Institutional Trust Lands Advisory Board, School and Institutional Trust Lands board of trustees, Southwest Utah Mental Health/Alcohol and Drug Center authority board, Southern Utah Bar Association, American Bar Association, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, American Association of University Women and has participated as a mentor in the Utah State Bar’s “New Lawyer Training Program.”
Women Lawyers of Utah board member Audrey Phillips said of Hjelle: “She is admired for her professionalism by her colleagues in the Washington County area.”
Because of the nature of her positions at the water district and the importance of water-related issues in Utah, Hjelle is frequently quoted in public media and has testified before the U.S. Congress on road issues, Phillips said, making her a visible example of a well-respected, professional and passionate woman lawyer.
The award Hjelle received was created in honor of Dorathy Merrill Brothers. Brothers was the only woman in her 1931 University of Utah graduating class and went on to study law at the University of Chicago. Brothers was the 16th woman admitted to the bar in Utah and a member of the Utah State Code Commission, which revised the state’s legal code.
The Utah State Bar was established in 1931 and regulates the practice of law under the authority of the Utah Supreme Court. Visit the Utah State Bar website for more information.
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