LETTER TO THE EDITOR — Ballots will soon begin appearing in mailboxes and citizens of Utah will have an opportunity to play their part in ensuring our judicial system is fair and equitable, with a high standard for retention of quality judges.
The decisions judges make affect our everyday lives, oftentimes determining disputes between family members, neighbors, business owners and others. Judges issue sentences for crimes committed in our communities and play a critical role in interpreting and maintaining law to keep order in our communities, states, and nation. It is important that voters make informed decisions when marking our ballots this election.
Unlike many other states, Utah does not hold general elections for its judges. Our judges are appointed based on merit, outside the grasp of political influence, and are free to rule on issues without being tethered to a political position. Accordingly, our state conducts judicial retention elections, where voters determine whether a judge should remain on the bench for another term or be dismissed by indicating yes or no on the ballot. Each voter’s task is to become knowledgeable enough to evaluate the performance of sitting judges to cast a fair and informed vote.
To aid citizens in the education process, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) performs evaluations for all Utah judges. The JPEC commissioners serve Utah citizens by gathering and analyzing judicial performance data and then making recommendations about judge retention based on minimum performance standards established by law. If a judge passes those minimum standards, the law presumes commissioners will accordingly vote to recommend the judge be retained. If a judge fails to pass a minimum performance standard, commissioners will vote to recommend the judge not be retained.
JPEC also provides an important tool where voters can become educated on a judge’s performance. Simply go to judges.utah.gov and obtain immediate and concise information about any Utah judge, including the judge’s performance scores, JPEC recommendations, evaluations summaries, survey respondents’ recommendations and other vital information regarding the evaluation process.
Formed in 2008 by the Utah Legislature, JPEC is made up of 13 commissioners, appointed by each of the three branches of government. Members of the commission include lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Care is taken to ensure partisan balance, as no more than two members from each appointing authority may be from the same political party.
Voters do play an important role in judicial accountability when they take the time to become educated about their judges, participate in the voting process, and then cast a fair and informed vote thereby assuring that Utah citizens will continue to retain and have access to the highest quality of judges in our judicial system. I urge you to go to judges.utah.gov to learn about your local judges before it’s time to cast your vote.
Submitted by CURTIS M. JENSEN, St. George. Jensen is a commissioner on the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. He is a founding partner of the law firm Snow Jensen & Reece.
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