Between now and Nov. 6, as Utah citizens go to the polls, they will be asked to weigh in on whether to retain 25 judges who will be on ballots around the state. For the first time, detailed evaluation reports on all judges on the ballot are available at www.judges.utah.gov. These evaluations can also be found in the voter information pamphlet. All judicial evaluations were prepared by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), an independent commission created by the Utah Legislature in 2008 to provide recommendations to voters about judges standing for retention election.
JPEC has two essential functions. First and most importantly, JPEC evaluates the performance of Utah judges and makes recommendations to citizens about whether a particular judge should be retained in office. This year, JPEC recommends that all of the judges on the ballot be retained. And, unless some wonder whether JPEC has gone easy on the judges, we encourage you to read the evaluations. No two judges, it turns out, are exactly alike. Each judge is an individual, each judge conducts his or her courtroom with variations in style and each has individual strengths and weaknesses.
Clearly, there is no such thing as a perfect judge. Yet, for all the judges standing for retention election this year, JPEC has been impressed with their diligence, their commitment to fairness and their strong sense of public service. Across the board this year, the overall quality of the judges on the ballot is excellent.
JPEC's second essential function is to conduct mid-term evaluations of judges in order to provide information to the judge for self-improvement. This function of JPEC is confidential and gives the judge an opportunity to consider feedback privately and then make changes as appropriate. In contrast to the private midterm evaluation, the retention evaluation is made public so citizens will have reliable information with which to make informed voting decisions.
The commission, which is made up of 13 individuals, only half of whom can be attorneys, is composed of four appointees by the Supreme Court, four by the governor and four by the Legislature. The final member is the executive director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The commission has created an evaluation program that includes surveys of attorneys, court staff and jurors and a first-in-the-country program of courtroom observation. Citizen volunteers receive training about judicial processes and then spend time in various courtrooms, observing judges as they conduct court sessions.
Because this is the first election where JPEC has conducted evaluations and made recommendations, we are anxious for voters to access our website, www.judges.utah.gov, and study our recommendations. You can also visit us on Facebook or submit any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The time is here – Be sure to vote. And remember that an informed vote is the best vote!
Anthony W. Schofield is chairman of the udiciJal Performance Evaluation Commission. He is a practicing attorney at Kirton McConkie and a retired 4th District Court Judge.