Summit County voters to determine retention of 14 judges | ParkRecord.com

Summit County voters to determine retention of 14 judges

When Summit County voters get their ballots later this month, they will have an opportunity to reject or retain 14 judges, decisions that shouldn't be taken lightly, according to Jennifer Yim, executive director of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

Yim said judicial retention often presents a puzzle to voters. She said voters are often uninformed about the judges in their area, which can lead to them guessing or declining to cast a vote. Neither of which she recommends.

"Judges are incredibly influential people in our communities," she said. "They make decisions that affect people's lives, sometimes profoundly. These are very powerful people."

The Utah Legislature created the agency Yim works for in 2008 to provide an independent evaluation of all the judges in the state and serve as a resource for voters during elections. The bipartisan Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) is comprised of 13 commissioners that are charged with evaluating judges' performance and making a recommendation to voters about whether a judge should be retained or not.

"Voters are the only people in Utah who can allow a judge to serve another term," Yim said. "But, it is difficult for voters to know information about a judge to make an informed decision. JPEC is designed to provide that data."

The independent analysis JPEC performs provides an examination of the judge's performance. Three of the main minimum performance standards that are considered include: legal ability, administrative skills, and integrity and judicial temperament. Information about the 14 judges who are up for retention is available on JPEC's website.

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"Voters can see that, if those are the things that matter to them," Yim said. "Maybe they want to know something really particular. Something that matters to me is whether the judges treat everyone with equal respect. Voters can download the whole report to see how the judge scores on that question."

JPEC's evaluations are also intended to provide the judges with ongoing feedback about their performance, Yim said. She added, "It gives them an opportunity to know how they are doing and improve."

All of the judges up for retention in Summit County passed the minimum performance standards, which look at qualitites such as legal ability and administrative skills, with perfect scores. JPEC's survey respondents who looked at a overall performance unanimously recommended all of the judges be retained, except for Judge Shauna Kerr. Eight of 12 respondents recommended Kerr's retention.

According to JPEC's recommendations, some survey respondents indicated concerns about Kerr's performance. Some found that Kerr was "short-tempered" and shows "disrespect to some people in court and is preferential in her treatment of others." Others, however, viewed her as a "fair-minded judge" who treats people with respect and cares about court participants.

"Courtroom observers are also mixed in their comments about Judge Kerr's behavior," the JPEC report on Kerr stated. "However, they all indicate that they would expect to be treated fairly by Judge Kerr if they were to appear before her."

People come in contact with judges throughout their lifetimes for various reason, Yim said, including divorces, child custody hearings, traffic tickets and other crimes.

"Traffic tickets are the most common way people show up in court," she said. "How do you want to be treated in that moment? What if you need to appear in court because your kid got in trouble? How do you want that interaction to go? This is the opportunity for regular people to have some influence over that."

The following are JPEC’s recommendations for the retention of judges in Summit County:

Supreme Court Justice Deno Himonas, 94 percent retention, 11-0

Mary Kate Toomey, Court of Appeals, 93 percent retention, 13-0

Heather Brereton, 3rd District Court, 97 percent retention, 12-0

James Gardner, 3rd District Court, 96 percent retention, 12-0

Royal Hansen, 3rd District Court, 90 percent retention, 11-0

Douglas Hogan, 3rd District Court, 97 percent retention, 12-0

William Kendall, 3rd District Court, 91 percent retention, 12-0

Richard McKelvie, 3rd District Court, 97 percent retention, 12-0

Kara Pettit, 3rd District Court, 94 percent retention, 12-0

Laura Scott, 3rd District Court, 97 percent retention, 12-0

Shauna Kerr, Justice Court, 79 percent retention, 8-4

Elizabeth Knight, Juvenile Court, 94 percent retention, 12-0

Elizabeth Lindsley, Juvenile Court, 94 percent retention, 13-0

Tupakk Renteria, Juvenile Court, 98 percent retention, 12-0