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Elected Judges - for most states, is there some sort of evaluation before a judge runs for office?

Discussion in 'Constitutional Law & Civil Rights' started by LegalCuriosity, Jan 24, 2021.

  1. LegalCuriosity

    LegalCuriosity Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Hi team,

    I am not from the US and I am just curious about how their system works.

    I know that in the states (of the United States), judges are elected. To me, this seems like the wrong type of people could end up becoming judges as the key criteria would be likability rather than legal experience and skill.

    I was wondering, do candidates for judge need to go through a vetting process first? For example, be highly regarding for their legal abilities by their colleagues?

    I have seen some state judges on youtube and they appear extremely unprofessional and frankly completely separated from the law. I saw one judge in Mississippi sentence a woman to 18 years imprisonment without an obvious legal explanation. She basically read out a poem of what she thought the victims of the drink driving would have said and then said "in honour of Jane Doe, I sentence you to 20 years. In honour of John Doe, I sentence you to 20 years. Because the court believes your husband had a role to play in this, I reduce the sentences by 18 years to 20 years". There was no legal explanation as to why the judge began with 20 years to begin with. Not only that but I have never heard of "in honour of..." being a legitimate legal reason for a sentence...

    Now in saying that, I have also seen a LOT of very professional state judges. It occurs to me that because the US population is huge, you are bound to end up with one or two bad apples. After all, if you have 20,000 judges, and 1 in every thousand is bad, then you would have 20 bad judges for people to see on Youtube.

    Cheers
     
  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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  3. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    That's overly broad. In some states at least some judges are elected. It varies considerably from state to state. For example, in my state all the judges are appointed, but they do have to stand for retention votes every few years in which the citizens vote whether to retain the judge or not. Those votes are not contested and the judges do not campaign for them. The citizens simply vote for retention based on the judges' records. In another state I lived in, only the judges for the lowest level court — the one handling minor matters like traffic offenses, infractions, misdemeanor arraignments, and small claims civil cases — were elected. Those elected judges didn't have to have any legal background whatsoever to run and be elected. Those without legal training were given a "bench book" which explained what they needed to know to do their job. In some states for elected judges the candidate must be a lawyer licensed in that state. Apart from that, though, for elected judges there aren't requirements like a stamp of approval from sitting judges or lawyers.

    For the most part, though, states that have elected judges only have trial court judges elected. The appellate court judges are almost always appointed.


    Whether elected or appointed, a few judges will turn out to be bad. It's just the nature of mankind that not everyone is competent at the job he or she does.
     
  4. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    In my state, superior court judges (the only level of trial court) are elected, although the governor will appoint judges to fill vacancies. Voters make their decisions primarily by throwing darts at a wall -- i.e., it is uncommon to rare for a voter to know anything about any judicial candidate, and few, if any, voters take the time even to read the candidates' statements in the ballot materials. In mid-2000s, a woman who, despite holding a law degree, had barely practiced law and owned a bagel store, defeated a well-regarded superior court judge in the state's most populous county. The vote was speculated to have been, at least in part, a result of the judge's difficult to pronounce, Latvian name. Fortunately, this sort of nonsense isn't uncommon. Appellate and Supreme Court justices in my state are appointed and subject to retention elections.
     
  5. flyingron

    flyingron Well-Known Member

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    Here there's no vetting other than what pitch the judge makes to the electorate. It is now required in our state that the judge be a resident and in current good standing with the state bar.
     

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