February 19, 2013

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Article

Ron Yengich

Making a Difference for 37 Years

Josh McFadden

February 19, 2013


In a career that has spanned nearly four decades, few Utah attorneys have impacted as many lives and been involved in such high-profile cases as defense lawyer Ron Yengich, partner at Yengich, Rich & Xaiz in Salt Lake City.

For 37 years, Yengich has defended those accused of various crimes, including individuals who stood trial for capital murder and other serious offenses, such as the infamous forger Mark Hoffman. For Yengich, representing people in such highly publicized circumstances offers the opportunity to be an advocate for someone in dire need when society has cast them aside.

Yengich has always eschewed attaching labels to people, even those involved in heinous accusations. He insists on looking at the individual as someone who has committed an error rather than someone who is an error.

“As a defense attorney, you get to help people,” he says. “It’s satisfying that you can help people who need help, and that you can present their story that they are not the crime but that they may have done something wrong.”

In settings where it might be easy, convenient or socially acceptable to be judgmental, harsh or even demeaning, Yengich believes it’s critical to truly see the good in others. In his work, he has seen enough and has represented enough people of various backgrounds to conclude that the majority of people are intrinsically good. Some people, unfortunately, make poor choices.

“Most people are common, decent folks who have made mistakes,” he says.

Ultimately, Yengich’s hope is to assist individuals in overcoming their challenges and in becoming industrious, respectable citizens.

“I want them to become more productive members of society and do it in a way that is honorable,” he says.

Reflecting back on his long, successful, distinguished career, Yengich says some of his most memorable, satisfying cases are those that nobody in the public ever heard about or those that didn’t garner media attention. He is pleased with having successfully represented everyday, ordinary people who otherwise wouldn’t have been treated equitably.

“What jumps out at me in my career has been helping people avoid being ground up in the abattoir, or the “sausage factory” that is the criminal justice system,” he says.

Of course, the much-talked-about capital murder cases in which Yengich has been involved are memorable as well. He says a few that will always be significant include the first capital murder case in which he got a not-guilty verdict, which occurred early in his career in 1979, along with case of West Jordan resident Sam Kastansis, who was accused of murdering his wife and three children in 1991.

“These are the kind of things that other people might use to define a successful career as an attorney,” he says.

Still, Yengich hasn’t done quite everything he has hoped to accomplish as an attorney. “I’d like to actually argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court,” he says.

Raised in the small Utah community of Bingham Canyon, Yengich was reared in a Catholic home and taught the values of helping others. This ideal was a basis for studying law and becoming an attorney. Yengich believed working people were important, and he initially wanted to go into labor law. He received his juris doctorate from the University of Utah and subsequently started his storied career championing the cause of the accused.

Today, Yengich says colleagues often ask him how much longer he intends on practicing law. His answer is a simple one.

“I’ll do it as long as I think I’m doing a good job helping others,” he says.

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