Approximately 85% of the calls and emails to Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) ask one not-so-simple question: How do you know whether to retain the various judges on the November 6 ballot? The short answer: you don’t know.
I wish I could give you a list. Read to the end to join our efforts to change the system.
There is no reliable, objective, comprehensive evaluation of a judge’s performance on which to base your vote.
To truly evaluate a judge’s judicial philosophy requires hours upon hours of evaluating the judicial record in key cases. That information on county judges, for example, is not easily available.
We’ve tried multiple ways to provide more information with only limited success. Here’s what’s available:
- Azvoterguide.com. CAP has spent countless hours sending five survey questions to every judge on the retention ballot for Arizona Supreme Court, Court of Appeals Division 1 and 2, and Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties. Judges received a follow-up phone call encouraging them to respond to the survey. However, only a small fraction of those judges on the ballot took time to respond, with most respondents only sending a letter about why they could not respond.
Thanks to a CAP-supported law, the courts have to report on appellate level judges who have ruled on constitutional issues. For your reference, VP Policy & General Councel Michael Clark reviewed each of those cases. You can see Michael’s summary of those cases and rulings at azvoterguide.com/judges for judges on the Arizona Supreme Court an Arizona Court of Appeals.
- Commission on Judicial Performance Review (JPR). JPR evaluates judges on the basis of legal ability, integrity, communication skills, judicial temperament, and administrative performance. The 27-member JPR votes on whether or not to retain each judge. Those results are printed in the General Election Publicity Pamphlet (starting on page 162) and available at azjudges.info. For example, you can go to the page for Maricopa County judges on the retention ballot. When you click on the individual judge’s name, you can find out more about the judge’s ratings.
The scores largely are based on surveys by attorneys, litigants, and witnesses appearing before those judges. Note that the percentage of returned surveys is very low. The voters, however, do not receive any information about the cases before the judge. The JPR score only shows what percentage of the commissioners believe the judge meets judicial performance standards. Again, the JPR process does not provide any information on a judge’s judicial philosophy or how the judge has ruled on cases.
- Social Media Posts. I’ve seen several lists circulating on social media with what judges to retain. When I inquire as to who published the lists, I get vague answers like a group of concerned citizens. These lists are not objective, with the information provided not well-documented. I don’t have confidence in any of the lists I’ve seen. There is no way to know why a list would recommend a no vote for a judge, it might be that one person simply was upset with one ruling from a judge. We really don’t know.
The current process for judges makes it difficult for voters to have input or get adequate information on who to retain or not retain. To change any significant part of Arizona’s model requires a state constitutional amendment, meaning a ballot measure for a vote by the people.
A few years back, I helped negotiate a compromise deal on judicial selection and retention with judicial representatives, but the measure failed at the polls.
On a positive note, every four years the voters do have input on judicial selection and retention by voting for Governor and by voting for State Senator every two years. The Arizona Governor is the one who appoints members to the judicial selection commissions, with those individuals being confirmed by the Arizona Senate. Those commissioners then refer nominees to the governor for appointment to the bench. For information on the candidates for governor and state senate, visit azvoterguide.com.
Know that Center for Arizona Policy will continue to support reforms to our judge selection process and seek ways to provide more information. Arizona can and must do better.
We urge you to join our efforts at the legislature next January.
Arizona’s system needs to change, so voters can make informed decisions. If you want to see this change, use this quick form to let us know you want to be part of the solution.
For another view on the current process, read Bob Robb’s recent column on the issue.