The judicial retention portion of the ballot


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:

gavelYou’re not done. Gather up your strength and finish the 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

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

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.


  1. Don’t tell me a judge’s politics has no bearing on their desirability to remain on the bench. Look at the highest court in the land, and tell me it doesn’t matter if a Justice leans conservative or liberal. Where do I find that information?

    The information you get from the JPR tells you nothing about their rulings, who they help and harm, only their bare competence at performing a job. Suggesting that the JPR gives sufficient information to “judge the judges” on the ballot is a farce. It maintains the status quo uncritically.

    This “advice” makes me queasy. The lack of an actually useful voter guide for judicial retention makes me violently ill.

    The best information I’ve found is here:

  2. I just mailed my ballot today. I’m not in Maricopa County but still I would have liked to know about this sooner. So my suggestion is that NEXT election, please, publish this when the early ballots get dropped in the mail, and every week thereafter.

    Hey, I have a question, how is it that Ducey thinks he can pack the AZ Supreme Court if the merit system only allows meritorious candidates to be put up for judicial posts?

  3. I also checked, presented by CAP. There were actually a few judges who returned CAPs ridiculous survey. There was one judge who didn’t answer the survey, but he did provide a letter… Just some more information to help you decide whether or not that makes you more or less inclined to retain those judges.

    • You do realize that Center for Arizona Policy annually supports bills to do away with Arizona’s Judicial Merit Selection System and return to the election of judges?

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