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Frequently Asked Questions

 
 
 
  1. Why do we elect judges in Washington?
  2. Why are judicial elections important to Washington voters?
  3. Why is the primary election especially important for choosing judges?
  4. What criteria should voters consider in electing judges?
  5. Where did you get information about the candidates?
  6. What kinds of ratings and endorsements are included at this site?
  7. Where can I find Washington appellate court decisions?
  8. How can I monitor the work of Washington's appellate courts?

 

1. Why do we elect judges in Washington?

In some states, judges are appointed. Most states, including Washington, have judicial elections of one form or another. Opinions vary on which method of selecting judges is the best: Some people feel that judicial elections keep power in the hands of the people; others feel that judges should not be subject to the political forces that often accompany elections. Because the Washington Constitution specifies that judges are to be elected, any change in Washington's judicial selection process would require a constitutional amendment.


2. Why are judicial elections important?

Judges make decisions about fundamental issues that affect all of us (family life, education, health care, housing, employment, discrimination, civil rights, public safety, etc.), and those decisions can have long-lasting impact. It is critical that our judges make fair decisions based upon open-minded and unbiased consideration of the facts and the law in each case. Judges must know the law, be independent, and be free from external political and economic influences. Voting for qualified judges really does protect the courts ó for all of us!


3. Why is the primary election especially important for choosing judges?

Judicial positions are nonpartisan. Therefore, unlike candidates running for legislative or executive offices, judicial candidates are not competing in the primary to be a political party's candidate on the general election ballot in November. For many judicial positions, the "primary" election is the determinative event.

If a judicial candidate receives more than 50% of the primary election votes for a contested position, that candidate will appear on the November ballot without opposition; the primary will effectively determine the final outcome. Because many judicial elections involve only two candidates, this means that many races will be finally determined in the September 19 primary election, and voters who do not vote for judges in the primary election will have no voice in selecting those judges.

In cases where no candidate receives more than 50% of the primary votes for a particular position, the two candidates with the highest number of votes will run against each other in the November general election.


4. What criteria should voters consider in electing judges?

In a report issued in 2003, the American Bar Association formulated eight enduring principles to guide the selection of judges. These are not recent principles, but reach back at least to 1780, when John Adams drafted the following statement in the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution:

It is essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice. It is the right of every citizen to be tried by judges as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit.

These concepts are embodied in the American Bar Associationís statement of principles applicable to judges:

  • Judges should uphold the rule of law.
  • Judges should be independent.
  • Judges should be impartial.
  • Judges should possess the appropriate temperament and character.
  • Judges should possess the appropriate capabilities and credentials.
  • Judges and the judiciary should have the confidence of the public.
  • The judicial system should be racially diverse and reflective of the society it serves.

Justice in Jeopardy: Report of the American Bar Association Commission on the 21st Century Judiciary (2003). For a fuller explanation of these principles, visit ABAnet.

The American Judicature Society has also suggested performance standards for appellate judges:

Integrity

 

Treat all persons fairly, equally, and without discrimination based on race, gender, income, or any other bias.
Conduct proceedings and make decisions fairly, impartially, with an open mind, and without consideration of public criticism.

Professionalism

 

 

Treat staff and attorneys with courtesy and respect.
Demonstrate emotional maturity and multicultural awareness.
Act with patience and self-control.
Act in a manner that instills public confidence in the judiciary.

Legal Ability

 

Understand and apply the relevant rules of law, evidence, and procedure.
Appreciate the importance of flexibility and common sense in ensuring just results.

Administration

 

Demonstrate a commitment to improving the judicial system.
Appropriately enforce court rules, orders, and deadlines.
Make decisions and rulings in a prompt, timely manner.

Communication

 

Prepare well-thought-out, clearly presented written rulings.

Most people would probably agree that these principles and standards are a good summary of what we should look for in a judge.


5. Where did you get information about the candidates?

Candidates submitted information to the Administrative Office of the Courts for its Judicial Voter Guide. We have duplicated most of that information here for appellate candidates.

In addition, we sent our own questionnaire to each candidate running for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. For those candidates who responded, we have made their responses available on the candidates' individual pages at this site. Some candidates had already completed a very similar questionnaire at the request of the King County Bar Association; for those candidates, we include their completed KCBA questionnaires.

For Spokane County District Court races, we include the questionnaires they returned to the Spokane County Bar Association.

If we do not receive any response from a candidate, we are unable to provide any answers. We do include links to the candidates' official web sites. We have also included financial information from the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, which regulates elections in the state.


6. What kinds of ratings and endorsements are included at this site?

We collect ratings and endorsements from a number of diverse sources, including newspapers, bar associations and other legal groups, and other organizations. Our goal is to provide voters with a broad range of perspectives. We especially look for organizations that evaluate candidates through the uniform and impartial use of established and published criteria. We also include more ideologically-driven organizations, however: Many voters find it helpful to know which organizations are supporting which candidates.

Check our Ratings and Endorsements pages for further information about the differences among the types of ratings and endorsements included, and for the evaluations themselves.

Please note that votingforjudges.org does not support or endorse any candidates; its goal is to compile information for voters.


7. Where can I find Washington appellate court decisions?

The Supreme Court receives over 1,000 filings each year; of these, it hears arguments and issues decisions in about 130 cases each year. All decisions are available online.

For recent decisions, visit the Administrative Office of the Courts. For all older decisions, visit either LegalWA.org or Findlaw.

The same sites have Washington Court of Appeals decisions.


8. How can I monitor the work of Washington's appellate courts?

We are very lucky to live in a state where access is so simple!

You can sign up with the Administrative Office of the Courts to receive an email notification whenever new decisions are issued. Your notice should normally arrive within 30 minutes of a Supreme Court opinion's filing. (Under current practice, the Supreme Court generally releases its decisions on Thursday mornings.)

TVW offers full coverage of the Washington Supreme Court's oral arguments. You can watch these arguments through many cable providers; the arguments are also archived and available via streaming media at TVW.org.


 
 

VotingforJudges.org, P.O. Box 1460, Silverdale, WA  98383
Write to comments@votingforjudges.org.

Votingforjudges.org includes ratings and endorsements from numerous organizations. We provide this information so that voters will be better informed about the candidates. We do not rate or endorse any candidates; the ratings and endorsements of organizations included at this site reflect the views of those individual organizations and not necessarily the views of votingforjudges.org or its sponsors.