As an attorney who has practiced law in Utah for 40 years in the state and federal court systems, I understand the importance of having an outstanding judiciary. That is why I accepted an assignment from our Supreme Court to serve as a member of Utah’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. The Utah legislature established JPEC in 2008 as an independent commission comprised of 13 volunteers from varied backgrounds, legal and nonlegal.
JPEC’s job is to periodically evaluate every state court judge. Evaluations are based on surveys of attorneys, jurors, court staff and other professionals who regularly appear in court, like juvenile case workers. In addition, JPEC gathers feedback from volunteer observers who watch judges perform their duties in courts across the state. JPEC also collects information about whether judges meet established standards for continuing judicial education, judicial disciplinary actions and time requirements for issuing decisions. And members of the public are invited to offer comments about their own experiences with judges at judges.utah.gov.
Here in Utah, our state judges must stand for a retention election at the end of their appointed term of office. Their names appear on the ballot and, on a yes or no question, voters decide whether to retain judges for another term. In advance of their retention election, JPEC publishes the evaluation results for every judge on the ballot so people can make informed decisions when they cast their vote.
Judicial evaluations serve another important purpose. They provide judges with candid feedback from others so they can focus on ways to improve their own performance. In addition to retention evaluations, JPEC provides judges with a midterm evaluation halfway through their term of office. Midterm evaluations help judges recognize what they are doing well and what they can do better before they have to stand for retention election. I have seen judges take constructive criticism seriously and improve their performance as a result.
Public trust in the judiciary is a cornerstone of a civil society. JPEC plays an important role in holding judges publicly accountable, while ensuring the judiciary maintains its independence. You can help Utah continue its tradition of judicial excellence by visiting judges.utah.gov to become informed about the judges on your ballot. Then cast your vote to make your voice heard in the upcoming election.
David Jordan serves on the executive committee of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission and is a shareholder at Stoel Rives. He lives in Bountiful, Utah.