Voting on Judges

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Although judges are not elected in Arizona’s most populous counties, voters do have a choice on whether to keep a judge in office. There is information to help you make that decision from the Commission on Judicial Performance Review. Mike Hellon, the chair of the commission, will discuss judicial retention, along with Arizona State Bar CEO John Phelps, who will also talk about the state bar’s “Finish the Ballot” campaign.

TED: ARIZONA SUPERIOR COURT JUDGES ARE NOT ELECTED IN THE STATE'S MOST POPULOUS COUNTIES BUT VOTERS CAN CHOOSE WHETHER OR NOT TO RETAIN THOSE JUDGES ON BENCH. THE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW IS A SERVICE THAT HELPS VOTERS JUDGE THE JUDGES. FOR MORE, WE WELCOME MIKE HELLON, THE CHAIR OF THE COMMISSION AND ARIZONA STATE BAR CEO JOHN PHELPS, WHO WILL ALSO TALK ABOUT THE STATE BAR'S "FINISH THE BALLOT" CAMPAIGN. JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW, GIVE ME A BETTER OVERVIEW OF WHAT THAT IS.

MIKE HELLON: IT'S A CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION APPOINTED BY THE CHIEF JUSTICE, CHARGED WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVALUATING THE PERFORMANCE OF APPOINTED JUDGES. SUPERIOR AND APPELLATE COURTS. AND RECOMMENDING TO THE PUBLIC WHETHER IN THE COMMISSION'S OPINION, THE JUDGE'S UPPER ATTENTION SHOULD BE RETAINED ON THE NOT.

TED: WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA LOOKED AT?

MIKE HELLON: MULTIPLE CRITERIA. THE MAJOR CATEGORIES ARE LEGAL KNOWLEDGE, THE CORRECT APPLICATION OF LEGAL PRECEDENCE, AND LEGAL PRINCIPLES AND COMPORTMENT, HOW DO YOU TREAT PEOPLE IN THE COURTROOM. ARE YOU COURTEOUS AND LISTEN TO THEM. COMMUNICATION, DOES THE JUDGE EXPLAIN FULLY AND CLEARLY WHAT IS GOING ON. AND WHAT THE DECISION IS AND WHY. AND THERE ARE SOME ADMINISTRATIVE COMPONENTS, WHETHER THE JUDGE ISSUES TIMELY ORDERS OR NOT.

TED: AND THE IDEA IS FOR VOTERS TO GO AND FIND OUT INFORMATION ON THESE JUDGES AND DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT IT'S A YES OR NO. CORRECT?

JOHN PHELPS: THAT'S CORRECT.

TED: TO GET DOWN THERE, YOU HAVE TO QUOTE/UNQUOTE, "FINISH THE BALLOT." TALK TO US ABOUT THE FINISH THE BALLOT CAMPAIGN.

JOHN PHELPS: THANKS, TED, FOR GIVING US THE OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT THIS. WE SENT OUT TO ALL 24,000 LAWYERS TODAY, AN EMAIL MESSAGE ENCOURAGING THEM TO FINISH THE BALLOT BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, ENCOURAGING THEM TO TALK TO THEIR FAMILY AND FRIENDS ABOUT FINISHING THE BALLOT AND PROVIDED SOME INFORMATION ON HOW TO DO THAT AND A SHORT VIDEO CLIP THAT CAN BE SENT TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS TO HELP THEM FIGURE ALL OF THIS OUT. IT'S AN UNUSUAL PART OF THE BALLOT AND A LOT OF FOLKS NATURALLY ASK LAWYERS ABOUT JUDGES AND WHAT TO DO AND SO WE THOUGHT, WHY NOT PROVIDE SOME TOOLS AND PUT INFORMATION IN THE HANDS OF LAWYERS WHO ARE GOING TO BE ASKED THOSE QUESTIONS.

TED: IS THERE A LINK TO THE PERFORMANCE REVIEW AS WELL?

JOHN PHELPS: YES, THERE IS.

TED: HOW OFTEN ARE THESE JUDGES VOTED OUT?

MIKE HELLON: RARELY.

TED: DO YOU THINK IT'S TOO RARELY, PERSONALLY?

MIKE HELLON: I WOULDN'T MAKE THAT KIND OF JUDGMENT. MOST OF THE JUDGES WE FIND ARE DOING A VERY, VERY GOOD JOB. THERE ARE A FEW AND THERE HAVE BEEN A FEW WHICH IN THE COMMISSION'S OPINION SIMPLY SHOULD NOT BE ON BENCH. I'VE BEEN ON THE COMMISSION FOR ABOUT 12 YEARS AND IN THAT TIME, ONE JUDGE HAS BEEN VOTED OUT AND TWO HAVE RETIRED RATHER THAN FACE RETENTION.

TED: RECOURSES FOR JUDGES -- BEFORE THE VOTING HAPPENS LET'S SAY I'M A JUDGE AND LOOK AT THE PERFORMANCE REVIEW AND DON'T RECOGNIZE THAT PERSON, I DON'T THINK I'M THAT PERSON. WHAT KIND OF RECOURSE DOES THE JUDGE HAVE?

JOHN PHELPS: I DEFER TO MIKE ON THAT QUESTION, THERE'S A PROCESS FOR JUDGES TO LEARN ABOUT THE EVALUATIONS AND ALSO CHALLENGE THEM.

MIKE HELLON: THERE'S ANOTHER PART OF JPR, WHICH WE CALL THE CONVENTIONS OF A JUDGE, A LAWYER AND A PUBLIC MEMBER WILL SURVEY ALL THE COMMENTS AND ALL THE REVIEWS OF THE JUDGES AND MEET WITH THE JUDGE IN A CONFERENCE TEAM TO HELP THE JUDGE UNDERSTAND WHAT HIS OR HER WEAKNESSES ARE AND WHAT HE OR SHE CAN DO TO IMPROVE.

TED: IF A JUDGE, LET'S SAY A JUDGE IS VOTED OFF THE BENCH, CAN THEY RETURN?

MIKE HELLON: WELL, IF THEY CAN GET REAPPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR.

TED: BUT TO GET REAPPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR, YOU'VE GOT THAT ON YOUR RÉSUMÉ.

MIKE HELLON: YOU DO INDEED. NOT LIKELY.

TED: DO WE HAVE ANY METRICS HOW -- HOW MANY VOTERS ACTUALLY GET DOWN TO THESE DECISIONS ON THE BALLOTS?

JOHN PHELPS: TED, I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT NUMBER IS. IT'S NOT VERY HIGH. AND SO THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS WHY WE'VE WORKED WITH THE JPR COMMISSION AND OUR MEMBERS TO TRY AND ENCOURAGE FOLKS TO FINISH THE BALLOT. SO I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE NUMBER IS BUT IT HAVEN'T BEEN A VERY HIGH PERCENTAGE.

TED: IF YOU'RE SPEAKING TO THE AVERAGE VOTER -- WE'VE GOT THE AVERAGE VOTER WATCHING NOW, WHAT DO YOU TELL THEM WHAT TO LOOK FOR AND WHY YOU'RE HERE?

JOHN PHELPS: IT'S PART OF OUR CIVIC DUTY, I THINK, TO EXERCISE THAT VOTE AND BECAUSE ARIZONA HAS ESTABLISHED THE SYSTEM TO GIVE VOTERS THE OPPORTUNITY TO PROVIDE INPUT, IT'S AN IMPORTANT PART OF COMPLETING THAT OBLIGATION AND -- IN OUR VIEW, AND SO WE'VE GIVEN THAT INFORMATION OUT TO OUR MEMBERS. BUT ALSO THE VOTERS' PAMPHLET CONTAINS INFORMATION THAT THE JPR PUTS TOGETHER AND THERE'S A WEBSITE WHERE VOTERS CAN GO ON, YOU CLICK ON THE COUNTY YOU'RE IN AND IT LISTS THE JUDGES THAT HAVE BEEN EVALUATED THAT ARE UP FOR RETENTION ELECTION. YOU CAN CLICK ON THAT NAME. IT'S VERY SIMPLE. TAKES EXTRA EFFORT AND THAT'S WHY WE'RE PUTTING IN THE EXTRA EFFORT. MOST FOLKS ONCE THEY'RE DONE WITH PRESIDENT, SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES AND CITY COUNCIL, SO ON, YOU GET DOWN TOWARD THE END OF THE BALLOT AND THEY'RE WORN OUT.

TED: YOU'RE DEALING WITH NAMES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF.

JOHN PHELPS: ABSOLUTELY.

TED: THE IDEA IS TO GET THEM FOR FAMILIAR WITH THE NAMES?

MIKE HELLON: THE LEGAL SYSTEM, THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM ONLY WORKS IF YOU HAVE WELL QUALIFIED WELL MEANING PEOPLE OBJECTIVELY REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE BEFORE THEM IN COURT. AND WHEN YOU HAVE GOOD PEOPLE, WE HAVE TO KEEP THEM. WHEN WE DON'T HAVE GOOD PEOPLE, WE HAVE TO REPLACE THEM. AND IT'S UP TO THE PUBLIC TO DO ITS JOB AFTER WE HAVE DONE OUR JOBS.

TED: OK, JUDICIAL PERFORMANCE REVIEW CAN BE FOUND ON THE WEB.

MIKE HELLON: ON THE WEBSITE.

TED: AND THE WEBSITE IS?

MIKE HELLON: I KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO ASK ME THAT.

TED: HOW ABOUT AZCOURTS.GOV/JPR. WE'VE GOT IT ON THE SCREEN. AND THE BALLOT CAMPAIGN?

JOHN PHELPS: EASYBAR.ORG, IT'S PROMINENTLY PLACED AND YOU CAN CLICK ON THAT.

TED: GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANK YOU.

Mike Hellon, chair, Commission on Judicial Performance Review; John Phelps, CEO, Arizona State Bar

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