Commentary: Information on judges helps voters make good choices

Scott Matheson Courthouse. photo by Ryan Galbraith. 12/29/1999

Let’s talk about justice. It has been a pervasive topic for us, especially over the past two years. We are being inundated with news stories. Our social media timelines are flooded and robust conversations are happening at our offices and kitchen tables. Collectively, it appears we are struggling. Many are expressing outrage. Some are feeling apathy. Others are unsure about how to make a difference.

Voting is our most basic civic duty. It also happens to be one of the most valuable and productive avenues to make our voices heard. In November, once again we will be given the opportunity to cast our votes. While judges are the arbiters of justice, they are also the most overlooked when casting our ballots.

In Utah, each of us has a say. We are given an opportunity to vote about whether to retain our local judges. We have an independent evaluation process that provides voters with the information they need to make informed decisions. The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) is an independent body created for this purpose.

The evaluation process and the reports that are produced by JPEC are comprehensive. They include minimum competencies, community volunteer observations, public comments, and surveys of attorneys, court staff and jurors. The process is transparent and it works. I know this because I have served on the commission since 2014.

I am not a lawyer. I’m a social worker, wife and mother.

In addition to providing information to voters, the performance evaluation offers insight to judges. The commission works hard to improve the process for all of us. While acknowledging that implicit bias is hard to avoid, this year we implemented blind reviews of judges, so we could continue to uphold our responsibility to provide voters with the most objective information possible. JPEC knows how important our process and information are to help improve the judiciary as a whole.

As community members, we might have different views about policies and how our government should operate, but ultimately, we’ve always been stronger together. Let’s ensure that collectively we hold the judiciary accountable to the community. The judicial performance evaluations are in place to ensure we are educated and informed about the votes we cast in November.

Evaluation information for judges can be found in the Utah Voter Information Pamphlet. Detailed performance evaluation reports can also be found at judges.utah.gov.

Sonya Martinez-Ortiz

Sonya Martinez-Ortiz is a JPEC commissioner and an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work. She also works as a therapist with survivors of sexual assault.