How did that judge ever get elected? It seems like I’ve heard that question a million times. If you’ve ever read about a ridiculous lawsuit that a judge refused to dismiss and wondered how that judge got on the bench, you’re not alone.
Judicial elections are a mystery to many of us, but a bad judge can wreak havoc on the lives of innocent people, on communities and even on our economy, so it’s important for each of us to get to know our judges as well as the men and women who want to be our judges. There’s an old adage that “what you don’t know might hurt you,” and that’s certainly true of judicial elections.
While 39 of the 50 states use some form of election to choose judges, relatively few voters cast ballots for judicial candidates when compared with candidates for other offices like governor and president. Many pundits argue that voter apathy is the main reason, but I’m convinced that the biggest reason is many voters just don’t know the candidates – despite all the money being spent on elections these days.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one national “clearinghouse” of information about judges that one can use as a reference guide to become an informed voter. However, there is a good place to start that you might never have heard about, so I would like to share that with you.
You’ve probably heard about Wikipedia, the online “encyclopedia” of information about a wide range of issues, but have you ever heard of Judgepedia? If you want to learn more about how judges in your state are elected and who is running for seats on the bench (at least on the top courts in your state), Judgepedia can be a good place to start.
Many lawyers and political insiders know about this site, but you should, too. It doesn’t rate or evaluate judges, but it provides information about sitting judges and candidates and often includes links to groups who do rate judges and candidates.
To find out who is running in your state, click here. That web page provides the most complete list of state Supreme Court elections I’ve seen anywhere, but it’s not the only source you should use. Also check this site. That page links up with a site that is specific to your state. For even more cross-referencing, go to Judgepedia’s search box and type in the name of your state followed by this: judicial elections, 2010. See here for an example.
Once you are familiar with the names of candidates who are running for judge or justice in 2010, use a search engine like Google to find out who has endorsed the candidate. Type in the candidate’s name and “endorsed by” as a start. Also, find out if the candidate has a web site. On top of this, you may be able to use the website of your state department responsible for elections to find out who the candidates’ largest contributors are, too.
As the gatekeepers to the civil justice system in America, judges have incredible power. As a voter, you have a lot of power, too. If you don’t use that power, others will, and their choice for judge many leave you wondering, “how did that judge ever get elected?”