Arizona’s judicial retention process: What you need to know

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Arizona voters in the state’s largest counties can choose to retain or remove judges through a process that rates individual judicial performance and makes that information available to voters who then can make their decision come election time.

Aaron Nash, Communications Director for the Arizona Supreme Court, elaborated on the process and shared that Arizona has two types of election: direct election, which is based on a competitive campaign where judges run for office, and merit selection, which is when judges who have been vetted by a commission are appointed by the Arizona governor to be on the ballot for voters.

In merit selection, the commission surveys people who appear before the judges about the judges’ abilities. The commission uses the scores from those surveys to determine if they meet judicial standards.

“Part of it is legal ability, how well-versed they are in the law,” Nash said. “Part of it is the categories under integrity, communication, their judicial temperament and administrative protocols.”

After discussing the judges’ abilities, the commission votes on each judge. The commission do not receive names of the judges during the voting process to remove personal bias. Most judges meet the criteria of the commission and every judge gets the opportunity to talk with the panel after the voting has finished to discuss their strengths and weaknesses as a judge. The Secretary of State sends out these voting numbers in a Publicity Pamphlet.

Only one judge has not been retained in Arizona: In 2014, the judge did not meet the commission’s judicial standards. Judges can also campaign against surveys that they do not agree with in order to convince voters. Many states across the nation look to Arizona’s commission as a model for their own.

To learn more, voters can go to azjudges.info.

Aaron Nash, Communications Director for Arizona Supreme Court

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