As you likely know, the Government Relations Committee works it’s figurative head off during the hectic days of the legislature. It meets regularly during the session, and then the Bar Commission meets weekly to review the recommendations of the Committee re: taking a formal Bar position with the Legislature involving various bills.
As a result, the
Bar took a position
in favor of several bills, and in opposition to several others. And in many cases, the Bar took no position but authorized various sections of the Bar to take a formal position on bills which involved that particular section of the Bar.
The Bar formally opposed SB 206, which would have placed on the ballot involving retention elections for judges a notation as to whether that judge had received a favorable or unfavorable recommendation from the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC). The Bar’s opposition was based, among other things, on a concern for the constitutionality of placing a formal notation on the ballot itself suggesting how the public should vote. That information should certainly be considered – but not as direct advice on the ballot itself.
But perhaps the most troubling proposal of the session was the proposal to amend the Utah Constitution to require the Direct Election of Judges – rather than the appointment by the Governor with confirmation from the Senate.
This is ill-advised to say the least. As a Bar, we certainly honor the notions of public input, public participation and public guidance. But not EVERY position should be directly chosen by the populace.
Just last week I was in Texas for meetings. It’s primary election season there, and I saw signs all over Austin telling me to: “Re-elect Judge Judy – Keep Texas straight!” Or “Dan’s the Man – vote Wiggins for Judge”. This just felt unseemly.
A survey (on condition of anonymity, of course) of State Court Judges where direct elections are the norm recently confirmed that judges admitted that it effected their decisions as to whom had supported their campaigns and who had contributed money for their re-election. If we adopt such a measure, Utah attorneys would have to break out their checkbooks in order to not risk the wrath of electioneering judges. In fact, two checks would be needed to assure that you had backed the winning horse. This isn’t right.
This very week I stood in court with a young lady and submitted her fate to the Judge. I am so grateful I didn’t have to explain to my client that I had or had not served on the judges’ re-election committee, and had or had not made a substantial campaign contribution. Such discomfort in the heart of an attorney (and her client) is wrong – but is inevitable if judges run for office like the local dogcatcher.
Lady Justice is blind as to who stand before her. We don’t want her peeking to see who’s signed her newspaper endorsements for her re-election.
The Utah Bar opposes direct elections because what we have works.
We trust the Judicial Nominating Commissions to sift through candidate credentials.
We trust the Governor to thoughtfully nominate the best candidate.
We trust our Senators to only consent to the wisest, most capable nominees – without regard to cute or clever publicity campaigns.
We hear all the time that Utah’s system is the envy of other states because IT WORKS! Let’s not mess it up.
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