ELECTIONS

Are you familiar with Judicial Retention? It’s on your ballot!

Nov 8, 2022, 1:00 PM

Images of ballots. A judicial review committee says that Utah voters too often leave blank their vo...

Ballots are processed at the Weber County Elections Office in Ogden on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — When you get to the portion of your ballot about retaining judges, don’t skip it! According to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, more than 20% of Utahns don’t fully complete their ballot. Many leave the section for judges fully blank. 

What is the JPEC?

The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, or JPEC, “conducts multi-faceted evaluations of judges,” according to a press release. These evaluations are then made public so that voters can educate themselves on the candidates that are up for retention.

The process exists so that the Utah judiciary system can be held to the highest standard.

Jennifer Yim, the Executive Director at the JPEC, emphasized the importance of the voting system.

“In Utah, we are very fortunate to have a strong selection process for judges. As well as a strong retention process and performance evaluation process,” Yim said.

“But, it leaves a very important role for voters. To help ensure the quality of our judiciary. And I think this year, when there are so many concerns about (the) legitimacy of government efforts, voters should take this opportunity to weigh in on judges.” 

Does my vote matter?

The JPEC uses an in-depth evaluation process to give voters a feel for which judges deserve to be retained. They take into account legal ability, judicial integrity and temperament, administrative skills, and procedural fairness. 

“Judges are incredibly important people, they affect our lives in so many ways, directly and indirectly. Family-related matters, like adoption and divorces, to property matters to business matters,” Yim said.

“Overall, things that can affect our quality of life. Not to mention, our freedoms and our pocketbooks. So, we forget about that sometimes I think when we get to cast a vote on judges. It really is the voters’ opportunity to weigh in on the quality of our justice system and help our justice system be as good as it can be.”

Utah State Code requires that each judicial appointee be subjected to an unopposed retention election in the first general election held at least three years after the judge was appointed. That year becomes their “retention year” and sets their evaluation cycle with the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission.

A judge must score 3.6 out of 5 to meet the minimum performance standard. Judges who do not meet this mark will sometimes resign or retire to prevent the negative rating from becoming public. 

The JPEC’s evaluation process attempts to encapsulate all important facets of a judge. Procedural fairness, or how a judge treats those in the courtroom, is a good example of this.

“Procedural fairness comes from social science research that demonstrates when people feel like they’ve been treated fairly, given a voice in proceedings, they are more likely to accept the outcome and to comply with that outcome. Even if they lose.” Yim said.

“We use that research-based criteria to look at whether a judge gives an opportunity for courtroom participants to have a voice in the proceedings, within the legal requirements of the matter. We look at whether people feel like the judge has treated them fairly, with respect and dignity.”

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Are you familiar with Judicial Retention? It’s on your ballot!