- How do other counties in Kansas select their judges?
- In districts that chose the non-merit selection method any licensed attorney with as few as five years of experience can file to run for the position of District Court Judge, just as other political candidates do for other county and state offices. The candidates organize a campaign, raise money through fundraising calls and events, send out postcards and other mailers and advertise, often on television and radio. Candidates are asked to complete surveys stating their position on controversial issues that may come before them as judges, including the candidate’s religious, political, moral and economic beliefs.
- Campaigning in modern times requires large commitments of money and time. Fundraising by judicial candidates can easily call into question a judge’s impartiality any time a party or an attorney known to have contributed to the judge’s election campaign or even known to have been a prominent supporter comes before that judge.
- Shouldn’t the voters be allowed to vote for the judges?
- All public officials should be accountable to the voters of Kansas. That is why the present system requires the name of each Judge to appear on the ballot of a general election every four years for voters to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No” on whether the individual Judge should be retained for another four years. This process allows accountability to the citizens without tainting the impartiality of the Judge by campaign fundraising, political pledges and sloganeering.
- But, shouldn’t the voters be given a choice on the ballot?
- In theory, partisan election of judges should give voters a choice between two candidates for each district court judge on the ballot. However, in practice, very few attorneys are willing to sacrifice their law practice and make the commitment of time and money to run on a partisan ticket. In the 2004 Kansas general election of judicial partisan elections, only 15 out of 85 had more than one candidate on the ballot. In contrast, the voters in judicial districts with the merit selection process have the right vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to retain all of the judges in that district. Even in the 2006 primary election, only 8 of the 34 partisan elected judges had opposition.
- Another thing to consider is the fact that only about 15 percent of all Kansas voters voted in the primary elections in 2006. In such a low turnout election, 7.6 percent of all voters could end up choosing who will be your judge if you are injured in an accident, face a divorce or if someone sues you for breach of contract. Because primary voters tend to be more ideological and partisan, the judges they would select would almost certainly also be more ideological and partisan.
- Voting is a fundamental right in America and most Americans automatically think that selection of judges by voters is probably all right. Our Founding Fathers were right, when they decided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that appointment, not election, of judges was more likely to result in fair and impartial justice. Perhaps we can learn from their example.
- How will I know whether a judged should be retained or not?
- When voters are asked whether a judge should be retained in office, they should be given some solid information in order to make their decision. That is why the 2006 Kansas Legislature passed a bill which was signed by the Governor that will establish a 13 -member Commission on Judicial Performance. The Commission will consist of six lawyers and six non-lawyers, and the chairperson shall be a lawyer, justice, or judge. The purpose of this commission to design, distribute, collect and tabulate a survey to evaluate the judges’ ability, integrity, impartiality, communication skills, professionalism, temperament and administrative capability. The survey results on those Judges whose names will appear on the next general election ballot would be made available to the public.
- For a number of years the Johnson County Bar Association has surveyed its members and published the results showing how lawyers who practice before the judges up for retention feel about those judges. The judges and lawyers take those surveys seriously. These surveys are another piece of information available to the voters.
- Basic biographical information about judges can be found on the Johnson County District Court website. Finally, most court proceedings are open to the public and citizens can observe how judges perform by visiting their courtroom. (Some court proceedings are necessarily closed to the public to protect the identity of victims or offenders, such as in juvenile or child in need of care proceedings.)