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Utah County residents vote to support judicial retention of over a dozen judges

By Ryann Richardson daily Herald - | Nov 3, 2020
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A ballot rests in a bin at the Utah County Administrative Building in Provo on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Elections staffers unfold and flatten ballots at the Utah County Administrative Building in Provo on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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Stickers await voters at the Utah County Administrative Building in Provo on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Utah County voters were tasked with deciding the fates of 17 judges, among other items.

As of 8 p.m. on Tuesday, voters were significantly in favor of retaining each of the judges listed on the November ballot.

Unlike other races, voters were not given the choice of several candidates for each position. Instead, each of the 17 names are accompanied with a simple “yes” and “no,” the bubble voters filled in indicated whether they were in favor of retaining that judge or not.

In Utah, the selection of judges is based upon their “fitness for office” and “without regard to any partisan political consideration,” according to the Utah Constitution. To uphold this expectation, Utah selects court judges through “merit selection.”

Merit selection begins with a bipartisan nominating commission, which is made up of judicial districts throughout the state as well as lawyers and other judicial experts.

When a judicial vacancy arises, interested parties apply for the position by submitting their information to the nominating commission over the open seat. The commission is tasked with reviewing the applications, conducting interviews and assessing the applicant’s qualifications.

Five applicants are deemed to be the best-qualified — or seven applicants if the vacancy is on the state’s Supreme Court — and those names are sent to the governor, municipality or county — depending on whether the position is on a state court or justice court — who interviews the nominees and chooses one.

Once the governor, municipality or county chooses a nominee, the Utah State Senate or Judicial Council has to approve the applicant before they can take office.

Additionally, Utah State Code requires each appointee to be included on an unopposed retention election during the first general election within at least three years after the judge’s appointment, which includes this year.

This year, John Pearce with the Supreme Court of Utah; David Mortensen, Diana Hagen, Gregory Orme, Jill Polman, Michele Christiansen Forster, and Ryan Harris with the Court of Appeals of Utah; Anthony Howell, Jared Eldridge, Kraig Powell, Melvin James Brady, Robert Lunnen, and Thomas Low of Fourth Judicial District Court; Douglas Nielsen with the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District; Kelly Schaeffer-Bullock with the Highland City Justice Court; Morgan Cummings with the Lehi City Justice Court; and Reed Parkin with the Office of Justice Court for the City of Orem are listed for judicial retention.

During a retention year, the judges’ evaluation cycles with the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission begin. The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission is comprised of 13 voting commissioners.

This year, each of the judges received unanimous approval from the commissioners.

State and justice court judges face a retention election every 6 years, and Supreme Court justices face retention years every 10 years.


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