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Task Force Works to Improve Understanding of Judicial Retention Elections

Task Force Works to Improve Understanding of Judicial Retention Elections



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Lawmakers and state judges have begun a series of meetings to discuss improving the public's understanding of judicial retention elections so that voters will be better informed.

Lawmakers say judicial retention voting is confusing because of the way information about judges is provided. Surveys from attorney and jurors are tedious and time consuming, requiring careful reading and comparisons.

There also appears to be a tendency to "throw the rascals out," said Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, one of 12 lawmakers on the Judicial Retention Election Task Force.

The task force represents a rare coming together of two branches of government that are often at odds.

It was formed on the heels of the 2006 election where 3rd District Judge Leslie Lewis was ousted from the bench after an in-court video of her berating a man in her court appeared on the Internet video site "You Tube." The video was used by some in a campaign against Lewis who became only the second judge in Utah to be out tossed by voters.

Lawmakers said judges are vulnerable to such campaigns because there is no practical way for a judge to defend themselves in the court of public opinion.

Since 1988, Utah judges have been appointed by the governor and elevated to the bench only after the approval of the Utah Senate. Judges then run in uncontested elections to keep their jobs -- a decision made to avoid the possibility judges could be influenced in court by those who contribute to their campaigns.

Statistics show that about 80 percent of voters vote "yes" to retain most judges.

But legislative studies show the correlation between retention election results and how much voters know about the state's judges isn't strong.

Some on the task force said they fear voter's don't even read the information about judges provided in election handbooks.

Others fear voters paint the judiciary with a broad brush, letting one negative encounter bias voters against all judges.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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