I have a wonderful and amazing 18-year-old daughter who is excited to be voting for the very first time this November. I am teaching her that voting is more than just filling out a ballot. She needs to take the time to study, become informed, ask questions, weigh things out, and finally make decisions for which she will be responsible as an engaged citizen. Among other things, I am directing her to resources like the voter information pamphlet. She is following the presidential race fairly closely. We all are. Well, there are many other races, too. One category of elections that some voters may neglect is whether to retain or not retain the judges who appear on your ballot.
As one who loves our American democracy, as a grateful citizen, and as a lawyer, I care deeply about our third branch of government – the judiciary. It is vitally important that our judicial system be the best it can be – fair, impartial, independent – because judicial decisions and court processes have tremendous impact throughout the community. Voters are an integral part of an excellent judiciary in Utah. Utah’s judges stand for uncontested election in order to retain their office.
In 2012, I was appointed to Utah’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. JPEC, as it is called, is an independent commission created by law in 2008 to evaluate the performance of Utah’s judges. It provides helpful information about each judge during the election so that, as educated citizens and voters, we can make informed decisions about each judge on our November ballot.
In the years leading up to the election, each judge receives numerous evaluations – from court staff, jurors and lawyers, as well as from citizens who are trained to observe court proceedings and write reports on what they see and hear. Members of the public may also write to JPEC during the evaluation period and comment on the judge who handled their case. Lastly, judges have standards and education requirements they must meet. The evaluation process and the reports that are produced are comprehensive. As commissioners, we pour over the data, deliberate as a body, provide written summary information on each judge, write and publish a brief narrative, and ultimately cast votes to recommend that a judge be retained or not retained in office. Go to judges.utah.gov, as well as the voter information pamphlet, to see the information JPEC has provided.
JPEC is made up of citizens from a variety of backgrounds. Each commissioner comes to this work with a desire to inform citizens of judicial performance and to improve the judiciary. JPEC has an executive director and professional staff based in Salt Lake City. JPEC contracts with a third-party provider in another state to gather the data and help us analyze it. I think you’ll be very interested to see the work product from this exhaustive process. As voters — young and not-so-young anymore — we have a responsibility to be informed and engaged citizens. Not just on one race, but on all of the candidates and issues appearing on the ballot.. Voting on judges is an important part of that overall responsibility. The good news is you have JPEC’s helpful information right at your fingertips. Thank you for your support of this important effort which is designed to assist and support you as engaged citizens and informed voters.
A native of Cache Valley, and a graduate of Logan High School and Utah State University, Nathan D. Alder is a litigator, trial attorney and mediator with a law firm in downtown Salt Lake City. He is a past president of the Utah State Bar, and a current officer and board member of the National Conference of Bar Presidents.