Utah voters will have more information than ever on the state's judges when they step into the booth in November.
A four-year effort to begin better evaluating judges in advance of retention elections will get its first real public showing next week, when evaluations for the 25 judges on 2012 ballots are published online.
"Our whole purpose is to provide helpful, meaningful evaluations and recommendations to the electorate," said Anthony Schofield, a retired 4th District judge who now serves as the chairman of the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. "That's who we feel we're working for."
In the past, voter pamphlets have included a judge's biographical information and rating charts that Schofield called "largely unhelpful." But in 2008, the Utah Legislature created the evaluation commission in hopes of improving the retention process.
The 13-member commission completed midterm evaluations of judges in 2010, but the reports were intended only for self-improvement and were not made public. On Tuesday, the full reports will be published at judges.utah.gov.
"Our focus really is on being user friendly for the public," said Joanne Slotnik, the commission's executive director. "You can click on the website and in plain English understand what the judges' strengths and weaknesses are."
Judges have been rated by attorneys, court employees and jurors on their rulings, impartiality and behavior, among other courtroom characteristics. The jurists have also been rated by volunteer courtroom observers who have received training from the commission but are not legal experts.
"The courtroom observation program is the first of its kind in the country," Slotnik said. "This is especially valuable. It's like a proxy for the voter, a citizen with no dog in the fight going into the courtroom and saying, 'How do I think this judge is treating people?' "
After considering the ratings and other information, the commission made recommendations on each judge's retention.
All of the judges up for retention in 2012 received positive recommendations, Schofield said.
Slotnik and Schofield said the state's judges have been receptive to the new evaluation process.
"I think the judiciary and the commission are on the same page in terms of feeling that increased transparency is a good thing," Slotnik said.
Judges up for retention election in 2012
Kevin K. Allen
David M. Connors
Mark R. DeCaria
Michael D. DiReda
Scott M. Hadley
W. Brent West
Royal I. Hansen
Anthony B. Quinn
Christine L. Johnson
Derek P. Pullan
James L. Shumate
Eric A. Ludlow
G. Michael Westfall
Marvin D. Bagley
Jeffrey R. Burbank
Janice L. Frost
C. Dane Nolan
Charles D. Behrens
Elizabeth A. Lindsley
Mary T. Noonan
Larry A. Steele
Shauna L. Kerr