This may well be one of the most boring columns I will write, or you will read, this year.
But it’s still important.
As you may know, Utah’s system of picking appellate, district, juvenile and justice court judges has individuals reviewed by special citizen/legal commissions, with recommendations going to the governor or locally elected officials, with nominations that are approved by the state Senate or locally elected officials.
And then every general election some those judges come up for what’s called “retention” votes by the citizens of their jurisdictions.
So, on the Nov. 6 ballot will be a bunch of judges up for retention.
If you vote “yes” – and are joined by a majority of your fellow citizens -- the judge gets another set number of years on the bench. (These terms vary depending on the bench, longer for appellate judges, shorter for many.)
And if you are like most voters, you don’t have a clue whether these men and women deserve your retention vote or not.
Unless, of course, you read up on the judges on the state’s election web site.
You can see all the candidates here.
Scroll down to the very bottom to get to the non-partisan judicial candidates up for retention this year.
You don’t get to vote for all of them.
You only vote for those in your geographic court district. And there is a way at this site to look only at your ballot, only see the judges on your ballot.
I, however, have to look at all the judges and read their official judicial reviews in order to write this very thorough column.
(A note here: Since most of the judges do get great reviews, often I have little or nothing to say about these retention elections. But I look through all the stuff anyway. That’s my job.)
On several of the judges one or two out of the 12 members of the official judicial retention review commission voted not to recommend retention.
But none of the judges up this year got a majority vote not to retain. And most judges got 12-0 votes to retain.
In the larger judicial jurisdictions the judicial review folks actually poll the court staff, and take a sample of jury members as well as attorneys who practice before the individual judges.
How interesting is that – the court staff gets to fill out anonymous assessments on their bosses.
I worked for a local newspaper for 33 years. And one time, as I recall, we got to write anonymous critiques of our editors, all the way to the top guy. That is, we got to do that once.
After that our bosses evaluated us – like always -- but we didn’t get to evaluate our bosses. Such is life.
So, here we go:
There are by my count 23 judges up for retention this year.
This is actually a much lower number than were on the 2010 ballot.
That’s because a change in state law by the Legislature required a bunch of justice court judges to be voted on that year (for reasons I really didn’t understand then, and don’t recall now.)
With only 23 judges this year, it makes the job of a truly educated voter much easier.
Let’s take, for example, the first judge on the web site listed above: Juvenile Court Judge Jeffery R. Burbank, up in Logan.
The guy is about perfect. He needs a ranking of 3 (out of 5) to be certified as good for retention. He above 4s in about every area. (You can read about how the judges and justices are rated athttp://judges.utah.gov.)
Reading his summary you might think Burbank is about the greatest thing since sliced cheese. And in Cache County, that’s really big.
Burbank’s performance on the bench is “outstanding,” the summary begins. And it get’s better for him as it goes on.
Anyway, are there some not-so-great judges sitting for retention this year?
Well, only in comparison to some of their amazing colleagues on the bench.
For example, in the First District Court up in northern Utah, Judge Kevin Allen, relatively new to the bench, falls below the rankings of his fellow judges.
That doesn’t mean he’s bad. He’s just below average. And who of us haven’t been there.
Allen’s official review says: “While Judge Allen scored slightly below the average of other district court judges in the five survey categories, several attorneys and a courtroom observer noted his ongoing improvement.”
Ninety-one percent of the attorneys who practiced before Allen said he should be retained by voters.
And you are always going to get some attorneys who hold a grudge against a guy because they lost their cases before him.
Ten of the 23 judges up this year scored below average on the five areas of ranking in two or more of the areas.
Several scored below average in all five areas.
But, again, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be retained, only that they were below the average of their peer judicial colleagues.
Finally, good luck keeping these two judges separate in your mind up in the Davis, Morgan and Weber county district court.
Judges Mark DeCaria and Michael DiReda are both up for retention.
Since they both get above average rankings, I suppose you can just remember to vote for two Italian guys, or where ever the DiName comes from.
Finally, most of these judges look really young to me. What ever happened to the old, grizzled judges we used to respect back in the day?