Five Reasons Why JPEC So Often Recommends Retention
If you take a look at judges.utah.gov, it isn’t long before you will notice all those green boxes recommending retention. All those unanimous votes. Really? Are commissioners doing their jobs? Are all judges in Utah stellar? Here are five things to know about the Commission’s evaluations of judges.
- Judicial resignation: By law, judges have the opportunity for an advanced review of their retention evaluation prior to deciding whether to stand for the retention election. Although judges resign or retire for various reasons, most of which are unrelated to performance evaluations, judges do sometimes choose to resign or retire rather than to seek retention in the face of a negative evaluation.
- Minimum performance standards: Minimum performance standards (e.g., for legal ability, administrative skills) are legal thresholds below which a judge’s performance should not fall. The process is designed to identify problematic performance. However, not all judges who pass minimum performance standards are the same! Like you and me, they all have strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation tries to spell them out for voters in the commission’s narrative summary. When a judge passes all minimum performance standards, but the commission still has concerns, the narrative summary identifies them for voters to consider.
- Commissioner voting requirements: State statute tells commissioners that they should vote for the retention of a judge when the judge passes all minimum performance standards. Conversely, when a judge fails a minimum performance standard, commissioners should vote against the retention of the judge. Mixed votes occur whenever at least one commissioner believes there is substantial countervailing evidence to vote in an opposite way and overcomes the rebuttable presumption. If you want more detailed information about a judge’s performance, consider viewing the evaluation’s narrative summary.
- Confidential, midterm evaluations: Judges receive a confidential midterm evaluation around the midpoint of their term of office, containing feedback on areas where they may need to improve. This statutorily-required evaluation gives judges the remaining half of their term to receive training or any other assistance needed to improve performance in identified areas. If they make improvements, they will be more likely to pass minimum performance standards at their retention evaluation. They will also be better judges.
- Rigorous, merit selection: Judges have already taken part in a rigorous, non-partisan, merit selection process to become a judge. For state court judges, this process of thorough vetting by a bi-partisan nominating commission, gubernatorial selection, and confirmation by the Utah Senate most often results in very highly qualified members of the bench.
JPEC’s goal is the highest quality judiciary in Utah through:
- promoting public accountability for judges while ensuring judicial independence,
- helping the public to make informed voting decisions in judicial retention elections, and
- providing honest, credible feedback to judges to help them improve performance.