I have been meaning to get around to the judicial retention portion of the ballot, but luckily Lisa Loo, president of the State Bar of Arizona, had an op-ed in the Arizona Republic last week that does the job for me. My Turn: Do judges justice. Finish marking your ballot:
There are state, county and city issues where your vote will make a difference. After all, the recent Congressional District 5 primary race was decided by just 27 votes.
And while you’re voting, I ask that you not skip the judges who are on the ballot.
Focus on qualifications, not politicking
It may be something you’ve avoided in the past. You wanted to make an informed vote but you just didn’t know anything about the judges.
Don’t panic. There’s an easy way to get the information you want. Just go to www.azjudges.info.
Here’s a little background. In Arizona’s three largest counties (Maricopa, Pima and Pinal) judges are chosen through a process called merit selection. In fact, it was Arizona voters who chose this system back in 1974. Up until that point, judges campaigned for election, which meant fundraising and politicking.
Voters felt there had to be a better way, and that’s how merit selection was born. Judges apply, show their qualifications and get interviewed by a panel that includes 10 public volunteers, five lawyer volunteers and an Arizona Supreme Court Justice. That panel makes a recommendation to the governor, who makes the final choice.
The process allows voters to have the last word. After a judge has been in office for a period of years, he or she must face a retention election. It’s a chance for the public to determine whether that judge stays on the bench.
Judges’ performance is regularly reviewed
Of course, that leaves voters with one big problem. How should they decide which judges to retain and which ones should be let go?
In 1992, voters found an answer. They created something called Judicial Performance Review. It’s a process where judges get judged. A panel of volunteers selected by Arizona’s Supreme Court look at surveys completed by lawyers, parties to the judicial action, jurors and witnesses. They interview the judges. They consider the judge’s legal ability, temperament and communication skills. In the end, the panel votes on whether a judge meets retention standards.
This is where you come in. For the process to work, you need to vote. To vote wisely, you need information. You can find that information at www.azjudges.info.
Two years ago, Arizona voters did something they hadn’t done in 36 years. They chose not to retain a judge. You could say that it showed voters had taken the time to learn about the process.
One judge doesn’t meet qualifications
Once again this year, there is a Maricopa County judge [Jo Lynn Gentry] who does not meet Judicial Performance Review Standards. It’s up to you to decide how you want to vote in that judge’s retention election. All I ask is that you take a few minutes to do your research. Look at how all the judges facing an election scored. Tell your friends how easy it is.
Note: There was a second judge, Pima County Superior Court Judge Carmine Cornelio, who did not meet Judicial Performance Review Standards. Judge Cornelio has elected to retire rather than stand for retention on the November ballot. Poor review leads Tucson Judge Cornelio to retire in December.
[Please] . . . work your way through all the races and ballot issues.
That way when you wear that “I Voted” sticker, you’ll know you earned it by finishing the ballot.