A task force charged with finding a better way for voters to judge Utah's judges concluded its efforts without coming to an agreement on a system to evaluate jurists.

After five months' worth of study and discussion, the Judicial Retention Election Task Force ended up divided on a grading system to evaluate judges, split along lawmakers and judges on the task force.

Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham, a member of the task force, spoke for Utah judges in saying there was nothing in the current evaluation system in need of fixing. Task force co-chairman, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said he disagreed.

"I'm opposed to it because you have a very good judge who can fail and a poor judge who could pass," Buttars said.

All sides have agreed that evaluating a judge's performance is no easy task. Most evaluation systems used in all states, including Utah, are made up of very complex grading systems that usually stem from surveys of attorneys, jurors and court staff. Judges must pass with favorable marks on a certain percentage of survey questions. It's that percentage and how it's calculated that judges and lawmakers differ on.

Buttars proposed that Utah should shift its system to one used in Maricopa County, Ariz., which he said was better to weed out poor judges. Durham disagreed, saying the Arizona system adds another "layer" to the grading process that would further confuse voters.

The grading system was the single issue the task force could not agree upon, having drafted a bill that would significantly change how judges are evaluated.

What the task force did create was a special 13-member Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, whose members cannot be sitting judges or members of the Legislature. In fact, the bill proposes that only half of commissioners can even be attorneys and that no more than half of those appointing the members, the Senate President, House Speaker, Governor and Chief Justice, can choose from the same political party.

The commission is in response to some lawmakers who say current judicial evaluations by the state's Judicial Council, made up of judges, was too cozy a set up.

But without consensus, Buttars said the bill was not yet ready for the legislative session. Buttars proposed that the task force co-chairmen, Buttars and Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, continue to meet with Durham and other judges informally to "beat out" a compromise and complete the bill.


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