January 28, 2003
You Can Cast an Informed Vote on Judicial CandidatesBy Audrey C. Talley, Esquire
Judicial elections are coming up in the spring and in the fall. How are you going to vote?"
Some people may know that we will be voting for Mayor this year. And a few may even know that there is a primary election in the spring and a general election in the fall.
But judicial elections? Regrettably, voters are often overwhelmed and don't seem to pay enough attention to judicial elections.
This year, the Philadelphia Bar Association is out to change that.
Judges are important because they make decisions that affect our everyday lives. Depending on the circumstances, judges can halt strikes and work stoppages, force companies, public agencies and individuals to take certain actions, overrule elected officials and impose checks and balances to protect our freedoms. In fact, there is hardly an issue of importance to everyday life that doesn't land in front of a judge at one time or another.
And voters don't have to guess or take a shot in the dark when they choose judges. They can make an informed choice.
That's because the Philadelphia Bar Association's independent, non-partisan 29-member Judicial Commission, and its 120-member investigative division, complete an exhaustive study and investigation of each of the judicial candidates. The Commission and its staff spend countless hours reviewing the candidates' backgrounds and experience before reaching conclusions about which candidates are qualified to be judges.
Each investigation into a candidate's credentials consumes at least 10 hours of staff time. The 120-member investigative division represents the eyes and ears of the Judicial Commission. Each candidate is reviewed by a five-member team that includes non-lawyers. Investigative Division members interview judicial candidates as well as lawyers, judges and others who are knowledgeable about the candidates. Additional time is also spent reviewing writing samples and other factors that bear on a candidate's qualifications. Every candidate is also given up to two hours of consideration by the full Commission.
There is no mystery as to what the Commission considers.
Here are the factors that the Commission considers in evaluating candidates:
- Legal ability sufficient to have earned the respect of lawyers and members of the bench.
- Trial or other experience that ensures knowledge of the rules of evidence and courtroom procedures.
- A record and reputation for excellent character and integrity.
- Financial responsibility.
- Judicial temperament.
- Mental and physical capacity sufficient to discharge fully the duties of judicial office.
- Record of community involvement.
- Administrative ability.
- Devotion to improvement of the quality of justice.
- Demonstrated sound judgment in one's professional life.
Only the Judicial Commission evaluates the candidates this way - in a fair, thorough, objective and non-partisan manner. And this is the only way to help foster an independent judiciary.
Furthermore, the Commission is clear and concise in its ratings. It finds judicial candidates either "Recommended" for election or "Not Recommended." That's easy enough for any voter to understand.
The Judicial Commission is also diverse - comprised of lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Just as important, the Commission is comprised of representatives from each area of the Bar, and has numerous women and minority members. The Commission, therefore, represents a wide cross-section of viewpoints from the Bar and the community. In fact, one-third of the Commission and its staff are not even attorneys. This means that non-lawyers provide their invaluable input into the Commission's ratings, and their perceptions of the candidates are very important.
Without these ratings, voters would have no objective guidance at all. That's why it makes sense for every voter to pay attention to the ratings in the spring and the fall and help us inform friends and neighbors about the elections, the evaluation process and the "Recommended" candidates.
We need your help.
Nothing less than the independence of the judiciary is at stake.
Audrey C. Talley, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, is Chancellor of the 13,000-member Philadelphia Bar Association. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.