Judges soon may no longer judge their fellow judges and report the findings in pamphlets for voters. The Senate tentatively approved a bill Tuesday that would give that job instead to a new independent commission.
Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, sponsor of SB105, said the bill will also make data in voter information pamphlets about judges much more easy to understand.
Currently, when judges stand for retention in an election every few years, the state's Judicial Council made up of judges evaluates their performance based on a survey of attorneys, and reports findings in voter information pamphlets.
Buttars said the information has been so confusing, however, that studies showed the pamphlets had no bearing on how voters cast ballots, meaning that judges with poor numbers were often retained and those with good numbers sometimes did not receive the strong support likely merited.
The bill would create a new Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission to do evaluations, with members appointed by the governor, the Senate president, the House speaker and by the Utah Supreme Court. None could be current judges nor legislators.
For each area evaluated, the voter information pamphlet would not only show the score of the judge but the minimum acceptable score, and the average score of all judges of the same court level.
Among items evaluated would be a judge's legal ability, integrity, communication skills, judicial temperament and administrative performance.
The bill requires the commission to make such evaluations while considering information from court observation, a judge's disciplinary record, public comment, earlier evaluations, and surveys of attorneys, jurors, litigants, witnesses and court staff.
If a judge meets minimum performance standards, the bill requires the commission to recommend that voters retain the judge.
Buttars said while the voter information pamphlet will have easy-to-read scores for each area, voters can also go to a web site to look at detail behind those final scores. "It has to be simple enough to understand," he said.
Buttars noted that the bill comes after a task force looked for a year at possible revisions on how to evaluate judges. While he said judges, attorneys and others initially were widely divided, they have come together to support the current proposal.The bill passed 28-0 on second reading in the Senate on Tuesday. It still must clear a final third reading before being sent to the House.