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Judges

11/28/2007

Voters need less

involvement, not

more information

The Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance is busy working on a way to help voters make informed decisions. The appointed panel has developed an evaluation process it will share with the electorate regarding a judge's integrity, courtesy, diligence and scholarship.

"The public's expectation of the judiciary will be enhanced because they will know the individual," said former Kansas Supreme Court Justice Fred Six, one of 13 people appointed to the commission.

While well-intended, we remain unconvinced most voters ever will have enough information about judicial candidates to cast meaningful ballots. We long have lobbied against judicial elections for this very reason.

Integrity, courtesy, diligence and scholarship all are important qualities for a judge to possess.

So are logical application of legal precedents, compassion for participants, tendency toward activism, number of mistrials or overturned decisions, understanding of community standards and a fundamental grasp of local, state and federal statutes. But the KCJP's evaluation won't be measuring those qualities.

Judges and justices are not allowed to run campaigns on issues. Whether they're standing for a partisan election or receiving an appointment, these men and women of the bar can reveal only limited information about their character -- and not much about their legal abilities.

The only opinions ordinary citizens form about a judge's legal acumen are dependent on whether the judge found for or against them. Ordinary citizens don't really care about justice; they want the court to side with them.

Accordingly, the Judicial Performance Commission plans to utilize enforcement officers, attorneys and court workers who observe bench proceedings to fill out the evaluation forms.

We applaud the panel's attempt to better inform Kansas voters. But we're reticent in our belief that such evaluations should be used by bar associations or the Kansas Judicial Council itself to make the appointments or retention decisions. Throwing subjective educational material at the electorate further politicizes a process that's supposed to be apolitical.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net