Why Utah’s governor-appointed judges are on your midterm election ballot

Utah voters can decide whether or not to retain a judge after they have been appointed by the governor.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) The Matheson Courthouse in 2016.

Editor’s note This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s voter guide for the 2022 midterm elections. You can find all the stories in both English and Spanish here.

Para leer este artículo en español, haz clic aquí.

When Utahns go to vote this November, they will see a lengthy list at the end of the ballot asking the same question: Should a certain judge keep his or her job?

Judges are selected by Utah’s governor, but their names generally appear on the ballot every six years — when voters decide if they should stay on the bench. The judges are not allowed to campaign or put up billboards like in other states where the judiciary is entirely elected by the public. They are not running against another judge, only against public opinion.

So how is the public supposed to know if the judges are any good at their jobs?

Utah has a group of experts called the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) to give the public recommendations.

Their website, judges.utah.gov, provides assessments for all Utah judges that are on the ballot. It includes information on a judge’s perceived legal abilities, judicial temperament and administrative skills.

JPEC recommended that all of Utah’s judges be retained this year. It’s rare for voters to boot out a judge in a retention election.

When there is a vacancy on the bench, the governor picks from a list of five nominees offered by an independent commission. That nominee is then subject to confirmation by the state Utah Senate.

Most judges face a retention election every six years, while Utah Supreme Court justices are on the ballot every 10 years.