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Measure addresses vote info on judges

SHARE Measure addresses vote info on judges

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said he thinks the process of informing the public about state judges during election time could be improved.

Buttars is sponsoring SB221, which calls for the formation of a task force that would be responsible for reviewing voter information on judges up for retention.

Currently, the voter information pamphlets are produced by the Lt. Governor's Office based on information gathered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

The task force would be made up of five members of the House, three senators and three judges.

He told members of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday that the information going out to the public is difficult for the "average Joe" to get a handle on.

He said his motives for trying to establish a task force aren't political. "This isn't a witch hunt," he said, calling those sitting on the bench a "vast pool of cream of the crop."

Senate President John Valentine, R-Provo, who had to leave the committee meeting early, said Buttars' bill was on the right track. "We do have a problem (with effectively informing the public about the retention of judges)," Valentine said. "I think that Sen. Buttars is raising a legitimate point."

In Utah, judges are appointed, then every few years voters are asked to keep that judge on the bench. A judge receiving less than 50 percent of the public's vote to be retained is removed from the bench.

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, doesn't see the need for the task force. He pointed to the failed retention of 3rd District Judge Leslie Lewis in November's election as an example of the system working.

Richard Schwermer, Assistant State Court Administrator, agreed that the current system does work, but if the bill goes forward, he asked that the judiciary be allowed to choose their members of the task force.

Committee Chairman, Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, said evaluating the performance of judges is tricky.

"This is a difficult issue," Bell said. "This is a real hydra."

SB221 passed out with a favorable recommendation. It now goes to the Senate floor.

McCoy, and Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, opposed the bill.