General Election: November 6, 2012


An information resource for Washington voters


 

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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?
  9. I'm a candidate. Can I provide profile information?
  10. Who created, and who maintains and updates, this site?

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 — 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.


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.

In elections for Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and Superior Court, contested positions generally appear on the primary ballot. If a judicial candidate receives more than 50% of the votes in the primary, that candidate will appear on the November ballot without opposition; the primary will effectively determine the final outcome.

In District Court and Municipal Court elections, the candidates will appear on the primary ballot if there are more than two candidates. Then, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will face off in the November election. If only two candidates file, however, the position will not appear on the primary ballot, and voters will wait until November to chose between the only two candidates.


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 Association’s 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 submit information to the Secretary of State for its Voter Guide, and some counties publish their own Voter Guides. We will duplicate most of that information here for judicial candidates, when the Voter Guides become available.

We include links to the candidates' official web sites, for those candidates who have web sites. We also include 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.

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.


9. I'm a candidate. Can I provide profile information?

VotingforJudges includes candidate biographical information and candidate statements in the format accepted by the Secretary of State for the Judicial Voters' Pamphlet. Once this pamphlet becomes available, we reprint each candidate's information here, on the candidate's page.

Candidates who want their Voters' Pamphlet information made available here before the publication of the Voters' Pamphlet can submit their materials directly to us.


10. Who created, and who maintains and updates, this site?

Creating an informational voter web site dedicated to Washington Judicial Elections was the idea of the Judicial Selection Coalition, a group of Washington state and county bar associations and other groups. John Ruhl, 2006-07 President of the King County Bar Association, and Charlie Wiggins, former Court of Appeals judge and Bainbridge Island appellate attorney, led the effort to create the project that became VotingforJudges.org.

In 2006, the Judicial Selection Coalition retained Paul Fjelstad, an attorney in Kitsap County, to design and create this site. Paul established the Votingforjudges.org domain and web site, and he continues to do all the editing of the site. You can write to Paul at comments@votingforjudges.org.

The site is sponsored and endorsed by many organizations. It has been praised by other media, and it has been recognized with two national awards: the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts (recognizing "communications media that have been exemplary in helping to foster the American public's understanding of the law and the legal system") and an award from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice (recognizing "innovative and effective works and/or programs whose efforts have made positive influential differences in the United States criminal and civil judicial arenas").


 
 

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

As the election approaches, Votingforjudges.org will include 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.