Monday, October 27, 2008

Voting for judges

This article proposes willful sabotage of the current system of voting for judges, not by doing anything illegal or unethical, but by intentionally underming it. Do not read on if such an approach does not appeal to you.

In Arizona, we vote every 2 years on the sitting judges in the District and county courts. The vote is a straight up-or-down vote. They run unopposed, and presumably are replaced when voted out. I do not remember having such an opportunity in the 12 or so years I have lived here, but there may have been one or two.

On my ballot (which I just filled out today) there were at least 60 judges. Now, I consider myself a conscientious citizen, so I went to the trouble to find the performance reviews on the state site (you can find them here). For each judge, we given a review by a panel of 30, along with comments on the jurist by the lawyers and jurors who have worked with them.

All of this gives the impression of a lot of information, but is it? Let's examine the three sources. First, we know nothing of the biases, motivations (and in the case of the 18 citizens, qualifications) of the 30 members of the review panel. If they vote against a particular judge, was it because they were really incapable, or was it because they did not like how the judge ruled in some particular case. John Grisham has made me paranoid of the hidden workings of our judicial process. Second, how many of us really trust the opinions of the lawyers who appeared before these judges? Lawyers do their thing to win, and their judgment of a judge is likely to be colored more by past and pending cases than by any objective sense of the judge's qualifications. Finally, we are given the opinions of those who sat on juries in cases where the judge presided. Not to be too cynical, but you know the only people who serve on juries are those people who are not smart enough to get out of jury duty. I know it's not exactly that, and I myself would love to serve some day, but the stress that this would place on my life means that my goal, at least for now, is to not serve. Further, what basis do we have for expecting that the jurors' opinion is anything more sophisticated than a personal like or dislike?

In the end, there may be a great deal of data, but very little information in these judicial review packets.

Is there a better way to select judges? I don't know. None comes to mind. But in the meantime, I am devoted to sabotaging the current system by voting NO on every judge on the ballot. I have done so in the last 3 elections, and will continune doing so into the forseeable future. I invite you to join me. Let's get rid of the current system, and make them devise another. It may not be better, but I doubt it will be worse.

Term limits do come to mind...

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