Guest editorial: Judging the judges
October 18, 2016
“Judges appear on the ballot every six years and then we, the voters, have to figure out whether to give them another term in office. It’s frustrating because we have no idea who they are or how they’re performing.”
As the former director of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, I’ve heard that complaint many times. But the truth is, all any voter has to do is visit the newly revamped judges.utah.gov. There, you will find everything you need to cast an informed vote.
If you’re in a hurry, you can quickly see whether the Commission recommended the judge for another term of office. If you have more time, you can do your own analysis. Learn how attorneys and jurors rate the judges on qualities like legal ability, judicial temperament and integrity, and administrative skills. Find out how courtroom observers—citizens trained to focus on how fairly judges treat the people who appear in court—view each judge. Read a summary of the judge’s overall performance, generated by the Commission based on all collected data.
But who makes up the Commission and why should we trust their recommendation? The law that established the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) wisely provided that each branch of government would have an equal number of appointees. No more than half can be of the same political party and no more than half can be attorneys.
The end result is a non-partisan group of volunteer commissioners whose only agenda is to fairly evaluate judges to the best of each commissioner’s ability. In my years as director, I was continually impressed with how seriously each commissioner took this responsibility and with how much time and careful attention each commissioner devoted to painstakingly examining all available data before reaching any conclusions about a judge’s performance.
One more thing, because the Commission is non-partisan and because judicial elections are also non-partisan, political affiliation or political views have nothing at all to do with the judicial evaluation process.
Skeptics might visit judges.utah.gov, review the materials found there, and then wonder why so many judges receive unanimous positive recommendations from the Commission. They may ask, “Is this whole thing a sham?” I can assure you that it is not.
The practical reality is that judges who receive poor reports often choose to resign or retire. That way, by law, their reports remain private and not available to the public. In this way, the system corrects itself and the judiciary becomes stronger. We all win.
In the coming weeks, before you vote, please visit judges.utah.gov. You’ll no longer be among those frustrated with a lack of information about the judges. You will instead be a well-informed voter.