By D. Chris Buttars
Utah Senator, District 10
I believe - as currently construed- that judicial retention races are worthless. Ask 100 random people on the street . . . . 98% or more will tell you they know nothing about the judges up for retention or even WHICH judges are up for retention. Many will be unaware of what a retention race is.
We do have checks and balances in place, but there again 98% plus of the random people on the street have no idea what they are. One is the Judicial Conduct Commission. It is a wonderful program, but I doubt that the average Utah voter knows the name of the commission, how to access it or even knows of its existence at all.
Because of these concerns, I opened a bill file, and I did so publicly (I didn’t hold it private) to see if someone had a great idea how to bring a more effective check or balance into the judicial retention process. The bill file was referred to key analysts and we begin the research process to create a first draft.
In a recent conversation, I mentioned my concerns to a member of the media. When pressed for an example I said something like, "Well, you could bring them back to the senate for a retention hearing." That's all it took for the media to begin its "Buttars Wants To Destroy the Separation-of-Powers" campaign. No doubt at this point you have seen it in every newspaper. It’s the only message they are reporting on this issue. It is interesting to note that the first draft of my bill has not even been issued.
Some good things have come out of the media frenzy. I have had a number of callers with judicial conduct horror stories - some with little merit, but others with great ideas on how we can enhance Judicial Retention Races.
I sit on the Judicial Confirmation Committee, and know firsthand that 98+ percent of our judges are the cream of the crop. Nevertheless, we may have some rogue judges that totally ignore the law in favor of creating their own. That is flat wrong.
Our entire system was developed to have effective checks and balances. The check on judges discussed above are retention races and the Judicial Conduct Commission. But, once again, we will find most of the public unaware of the conduct of individual judges up for retention races; nor are they aware of the excellent resource of the Judicial Conduct Commission to vent a complaint or concern.
I'm trying to work out a way to increase public awareness regarding retention elections, the infrequent but damaging rogue judge, and/or the Judicial Conduct Commission. My bill hasn't even be drafted yet. If someone out there has an ideas on how to make this work, I would love to hear from you. Please give me a call at (801) 561-0535.