Judges preside over trials. In most cases, after hearing the evidence and deliberating at the conclusion of the trial, jurors deliver the verdict
Judges are once again on the ballot. They are not challenged by adversaries as others are, since they are not candidates. Having been vetted by judicial selection commissions and ultimately selected by a governor, their names appear for retention.
Merit Selection is in effect in Arizona counties reaching a 250,000 population threshold. Currently those counties include Coconino, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal. The other eleven counties have elections of judges.
There are pros and cons with each system, which is moot since Arizona voters authorized Merit Selection as Proposition 108, in 1974 (last page of the quaint, typed list) by a margin of 35,432 votes. It was later expanded, again by a vote of the people, to include more public members on the commission and give the chairing justice a vote.
Judging by searches coming into this site, Arizona voters are interested in how to “judge the judges.” Unfortunately, many of the lists floating around the Internet are undependable, using politics as the sole determiner. We all know how unreliable that can be. The U.S. Supreme Court stands as a stunning example. Pres. Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, who then reveled in being the swing vote on the court and as often as not, swung left. When George W. Bush named John Roberts as Chief Justice, conservatives cheered. We rued the day when he was the deciding vote in upholding Obamacare. Such examples stand as stark reminders that there is no simple barometer to gauge those in black robes.
Those putting the Arizona lists together have no knowledge of the capabilities of the judges. Most wouldn’t know a judge they denigrate if they were face to face. The lists are typically based on whether the specific judges were appointed by a Republican or Democrat governor. This is an erroneous assumption since prior to submitting their applications, judicial aspirants of both parties often change their political affiliations to correspond to that of the appointing governor. Governors also make cross-party appointments. Republican Gov. Jane Hull set heads spinning when she named her longtime friend Democrat Ruth McGregor as her first appointment to the Arizona Supreme Court.
The most reliable means of assessing judges is by taking the time to study the ratings put out by the Commission on Judicial Performance Review (JPR).
It’s hardly an “inside job,” worthy of suspicion. Survey forms are distributed to people who have contact with the judges including attorneys, jurors, litigants, witnesses, people who represent themselves in court, court staff, and other judges. The Commission holds public hearings every election year and accepts written comments from the public at any time.
Judges are also required to complete self-evaluations to rate their own performance. Additionally each judge is assigned to a Conference Team composed of one public volunteer, one attorney volunteer, and one judge volunteer. The Conference Team meets with the judge to review the Data Report.
Ousting judges is rare, but happens. In 1978 Court of Appeals Judge Gary Nelson was not retained. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Fred Hyder was removed. Other judges have not been recommended for retention by JPR, but were still retained by voters.
Your best guide is to check out the ratings for all of the judges on the retention ballot, made available on the Judicial Performance Review site. Click on the individual judges names to get their complete rating information and bios. You’ll be far more informed than by giving any credibility to lists appearing in your email. The JPR lists are available here: