October 24, 2005
Questions and Answers About Voting for Judges in Philadelphia
How are Judges selected?
All judges in Pennsylvania are elected. We elect judges for local and state courts. The local courts include Traffic Court; Municipal Court (City) and Common Pleas Court (County) the State courts include all appellate judges. These are the judges that decide cases on appeal from the lower courts.
When is the election?
The primary election will be on Tuesday, May 17. The general election will be on Tuesday, November 1. Voting hours are from 7 a.m. untill 8 p.m. Though we will be voting for judicial candidates in both elections, in the November election incumbent judges will seek retention in a "Yes/No" vote.
Why is the primary election important?
In the primary election voters have the opportunity to pick the party candidates who will run for initial election in the general election. The highest vote getters in each party primary face off against one another in the general election.
Do judicial candidates run in party primaries?
Yes, they do. But some of the candidates for initial election file to run in both party primaries. This is called cross-filing. If a candidate wins both the Democratic and Republican nomination then he or she is, in effect, elected.
Why is the primary election important?
It is important because candidates can win both party nominations and be elected in the primary and because those candidates who win the Democratic nomination in Philadelphia have a distinct advantage. In the city, registered Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans. So the winners of the Democratic judicial primary are most likely to be elected. Consequently, quite a few judgeships will effectively be determined in the primary.
With all the names on the ballot, why is it so important to vote for judges?
Judges wield enormous power. 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 doesnt land in front of a judge at one time or another.
But I dont know the judicial candidates or their qualifications. How can I decide whom to vote for?
The Philadelphia Bar Association does a lot of the work for you. We have developed a list of criteria for objectively evaluating the candidates for Common Pleas and Municipal Court judgeships. This is what we look for:
- 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 ones professional life.
What interest does the Bar Association have in the judicial election?
We are an independent, non-partisan organization of lawyers. We are non-political. We simply want to see the most qualified people elected to judicial office. Our independent 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 for Common Pleas and Municipal Court are qualified to be judges.
How does the Commission conduct its investigation?
Each investigation into a candidates credentials consumes at least 10 hours of staff time. The 120-member investigative division represents the eyes and ears of the Judicial Commission. A five-member team that includes non-lawyers reviews each candidate. 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 candidates qualifications. Every candidate is also given up to two hours of consideration by the full Commission. In the case of sitting judges seeking retention in their posts the Commission also relies on the results of a poll of the citys lawyers, which rates the judges on their performance.
What happens when the Commission concludes its investigation?
Based on all the information that is gathered, the Commission rates each candidate for judge either "Recommended" or "Not Recommended" for election. The ratings are posted here on this site, advertised in daily and weekly newspapers and distributed throughout the city.
Why are the Commissions ratings important? Why should I pay attention to them?
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: "Recommended" for election or "Not Recommended". Thats 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 valuable input into the Commissions ratings, and their perceptions of the candidates are very important.
Without these ratings, voters would have no objective guidance at all. Thats why it makes sense for every voter to pay attention to the ratings in the spring and the fall.
What can I do to help?
Take the Commissions ratings with you to the polls. Select your choices for judge from among those found "Recommended" by the Commission. Vote for "Recommended" candidates. Download information and the Commissions ratings from this Web site. Copy the information and distribute it. Help us inform friends and neighbors about the elections, the evaluation process and the "Recommended" candidates. When you do this you will help to insure the election of an independent, well-qualified judiciary!