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Utah judicial review aims to help voters judge judges

Utah judicial review aims to help voters make decisions about judges (Photo: KUTV)

With 55 days until the 2016 election, it’s time for voters to get educated on a number of down ballot issues and positions.

Each year hundreds of Utah judges are up for an uncontested retention vote, and every year voters wonder how they should know how to vote.

The legislature pushed for a way to review judges and inform the public in 2008.

The first official release of data on Utah Judges came in 2012 and now in 2016 there is an updated, easy to use website that will help you know if a judge should stay or go.

Utah judicial performance evaluation commission works year round in between the elections to make sure voters have solid information to base their vote on.

“Judges are incredibly influential people in our society,” said Jennifer Yim the Executive Director of JPEC. She notes that a judge’s influence can be felt in communities even if you don’t have a case in his or her courtroom.

And their only check and balance in Utah is the voter.

“Registered voters are the only people who can decide whether a judge should serve another term of office.”

Judges serve six-year terms and yet many Utahn’s skip past judges on the ballot.

“They stop voting before they get to that part of the ballot.” Others just vote “all yes or all no” and Yim believes that is a function of not having enough information.

In 2012 the judicial performance evaluation commission, or JPEC, started grading judges on everything from their ability to apply the law to their bench-side manner.

“How judges treat people in their courtrooms and whether they treat them with respect," Yim said, has been proven to alter whether people follow a judge’s orders once court is adjourned.

Anonymous reviews happen throughout the year where volunteers show up unannounced and observe the judge. Attorneys are surveyed on how well a judge knows the law along with the judge’s staff. Jurors and those in the courtroom answer questionnaires about how the judge communicates, how quick decisions are made -- and their effectiveness.

When the multifaceted review is complete, a nonpartisan commission votes on whether a judge should be retained, the judge is then given that information for review. The judge has a month to decide whether or not he or she will run for re-election. Judges with poor reviews can choose to retire, pulling their review from public purview. Yim said that “if they choose to retire, that information from their performance evaluation stays a protected record.”

This year, one judge in Third District Court, Su Chon, decided to run in spite of the 7-2 vote against her.

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Another judge in Juab --Darold McDade -- received mixed reviews but still got the thumbs up from the commission.

“We want voters to know, they get to make their own minds up. We provide this information as a service and hope they will make up their own minds of who should serve as judges.”

The website provides a short review for voters with the up and down vote and a basic outline of the review. If you want to know more, you can ready the entire file of information gathered on them.

Either way, the website makes voting for judges easy and takes the guess work out of judges. If they do a good job you can reward them by retaining them.

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