Judge Selection and Evaluation (How Judges are Selected and Evaluated in the Courts)
The office of judge is unique in our society. A judge is a public servant holding an office of high public trust and so should answer to the public. However, the obligation of a judge is to resolve disputes impartially and to base decisions solely upon the facts of the case and the law. A judge, therefore, should be insulated from public pressure.
Merit selection of judges was developed as an alternative to requiring judges to run in contested elections. The Judicial Article of the Utah Constitution, revised effective July 1, 1985, establishes merit selection as the exclusive method of choosing a state court judge. As stated in the Utah Constitution: "Selection of judges shall be based solely upon consideration of fitness for office without regard to any partisan political consideration."
There are four steps in the Utah merit selection plan: nomination, appointment, confirmation and retention election.
The Judicial Selection Act (Utah Code Section 78A-10-101 et seq.) governs the process for selecting judges in Utah. The process is managed by the Utah Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice (justice.utah.gov).
The Governor appoints a committee of lawyers and non-lawyers for each judicial district, including the appellate courts. These committees are called Judicial Nominating Commissions (justice.utah.gov). Commission members review the applications for vacant judicial positions and select candidates to interview. After interviews have been conducted, the Commission refers five names (for district and juvenile court judges) or seven names (for appellate court judges) to the Governor. The Governor appoints one of the nominees who must then be confirmed by a majority of the Utah State Senate.
Judicial Positions for district, juvenile, and appellate courts are listed by the Utah Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice. To view any current positions available, please visit their Judicial Vacancies page (justice.utah.gov).
The public has the opportunity to vote whether to retain the judge for another term. Before a judge stands for retention election, he or she is evaluated by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, described below.
- Judicial Performance Evaluation (judges.utah.gov)
The Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) consists of thirteen members: four members appointed by each of the three branches of government and the executive director of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (justice.utah.gov). Utah Code Section 78A-12-201.
JPEC's role is to evaluate the performance of judges standing for retention election and to recommend to voters whether a judge should be retained.
Beginning with the 2012 retention election, JPEC will administer surveys of attorneys, court staff, jurors, as well as a courtroom observation program to assess judges' performance, demeanor, legal knowledge and temperament. The evaluation results will be reported comprehensively on the commission website, judges.utah.gov. A shorter version will be available in the Voter Information Pamphlet posted on the Utah State Elections Page (elections.utah.gov).
Any member of the public wishing to comment on a first-hand experience with a judge may do so by accessing judges.utah.gov and clicking on the Public Comment tab.
JPEC has enacted Administrative Rule R597 (rules.utah.gov) describing its evaluation procedures.