There are 59 judges throughout Utah, who are seeking retention in the November election, for all offices from the Utah Supreme Court to Justice Court. In Summit County, there are 15 judges on the ballot, and in Wasatch there are 14 or 15 depending on where you live.
As a voter, it can be difficult to know which judges should keep their seats. That’s where the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission comes in. JPEC is a state entity that offers voters information on how their judges performed during their most recent term.
Jennifer Yim is the executive director of JPEC. She said normally 20% of people skip over the judge section of their ballots. But because people aren’t voting at the polls this year, she said they’re hoping for a better response rate.
“They also get to have their ballots at home, and have a little bit more time to go through their ballots," Yim said. "So we're hoping to lower that percentage of people and have more and more people cast informed votes on judges.”
Yim said JPEC is hoping to weed out the bad judges by offering two evaluations for each judge — one at midterm and one at the end of their term. She said the midterm evaluation can give judges notice if they are at risk of failing their final retention evaluation.
“That process of putting judges on notice usually has a couple different outcomes," she said. "One is that the judges improve and by the time they come for their retention evaluation, they are performing at a much higher level, or they simply resign or retire. If they decide to stand for that retention election, all the information about them becomes public. But if they resign or retire, the statute says that that information we have collected about them remains a confidential record. So that process encourages judges to improve or it encourages them to leave the bench.”
But in Utah, she said, there are very few instances of judges not being retained.
“There has not been a judge who has failed a retention in the history of JPEC since we began giving recommendations on the ballot in 2012" she said. "There have been some much closer outcomes. But there have been no judges who have had to leave office because of a retention election.”
Yim said one of the reasons Utah has a high retention rate is because the state has a rigorous selection process.
JPEC recommends retention for all the judges on Summit and Wasatch ballots this year. You can find more details on evaluations and leave a comment about your experiences with local judges at judges.utah.gov.