|Democracy in Action|
Who's to Judge
Our court system is designed to achieve justice for all through an impartial judiciary, court procedures that honor constitutional rights, and the willingness of citizens to serve as jurors. Our legal system is based on the premise that all people are created equal before the law and that the justice system must be open and fair to all.
The justice system involves all three branches of government. These are the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The roles of judges and jurors in the judicial system make up an important part of this unique system that allows us to enjoy our constitutional rights as American citizens.
What exactly does a judge do?
Who holds a judge accountable?
What are the different types of courts and judges?
What does electing a judge on a statewide, nonpartisan
These are important choices. They are also a challenge for voters, because judicial candidates do not "campaign" like other political candidates. This is with good reason. Once elected, judges are charged with deciding what the law says, rather than ruling based on personal beliefs. Limiting campaign speech ensures that they are not bound to any special interest groups, or any previous statements. So, they evaluate each individual case on its merits. This history of nonpolitical judicial races is rooted in the U.S. Constitution, and is a basic underpinning of our democracy.
How do I know which judge to elect?
Candidate Profiles. Many judicial candidates have completed detailed questionaires for the OSB listing professional background and thoughts on the judicial role.
Education. Judicial candidates will always have a law degree, referred to in the resume as a J.D. (Juris Doctorate), or simply a Law Degree. There is no difference in these degrees. You may want to also look at when they graduated from law school, and also at what the candidates undergraduate degrees are. These can offer clues as to their background and interests.
Oregon State Bar admittance. The date a candidate was admitted to the Oregon State Bar tells you how long he or she has been a lawyer in Oregon. In order to be admitted to the bar, candidates must pass the bar exam, as well as a character and fitness examination. To remain active members and stay current on the law, they must take a minimum number of Continuing Legal Education classes each year.
Work History. The resumes in the voters guide offer some of your best information about the candidates history and experience. How long have they been practicing law? How much trial work have they done? Is there a list of prominent clients? Did they work primarily in criminal or civil law? If criminal, did they prosecute or defend? If civil, did they represent businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, or individuals?
While this history might offer some clues as to candidates perspectives, bear in mind that in this race you are seeking a candidate to fulfill the judicial function, which is to put aside their personal views and rule impartially. Judges from every field of discipline can and do take that responsibility seriously. Regardless of what kind of law they practice, voters should seek a candidate who is fair and balanced, and committed to evaluating each and every case individually and based on the law.
Community Service. Candidates will often list their community service history in their statements, or in their advertisements. These may demonstrate their community involvement and commitment, and may also indicate which issues they are particularly committed to.
Personal Statements. Occasionally, a candidate may include a personal comment in their candidate statement or in public advertising. This is typically something theyve carefully thought out, and reflects an important personal message about what theyre offering you, the voter. Remember that this statement, like all other campaign materials, is subject to the rules for judicial campaigns. Essentially, they cannot make pledges or promises that could inhibit the faithful, impartial and diligent performance of the duties of office. This means they cannot comment about crime, civil law, social issues, or any other issue that may surface in a courtroom.
Endorsements. Candidates will often seek endorsements from community organizations, politicians, and/or prominent local leaders. The number of endorsements is one indicator of community support. Which individuals and organizations are making the endorsements may also be significant. Voters can get a list of endorsements by calling a candidates office.
Editorials and newspaper articles. Community newspapers usually offer analysis of judicial races on the news pages. Many papers will also endorse one candidate in each race on its editorial page. These are useful tools, primarily because newspapers have more time and resources to "do their homework" than does the average voter. They have respected contacts in the legal community whom they can call for input. They can research a candidates past decisions, or major cases theyve worked on. And in some cases, theyve come to know candidates by covering their trial work or other professional activities in the past. Still, bear in mind that these endorsements ultimately reflect the opinion of one small group of editorial writers. Its a helpful piece of information, but just one tool among many. You can find these editorials by checking the paper each day, or by calling the editorial page editor of the paper to ask whom theyre endorsing. Many of the larger papers also have their editorials posted on their web sites.
Oregon State Bar Preference Poll. Each election cycle, the Oregon State Bar polls its members on their preferences in judicial races. The idea is that the lawyers in a local community are often in a unique position to assess their colleagues on a professional basis. Theyve often worked closely with candidates professionally, and can analyze their history, scholarly ability, judicial temperament, and ability to be fair and balanced in a judicial setting.
For Circuit Court races, the bar polls just the lawyers in the county in which the candidate is running. In statewide races, such as the Supreme Court, the bar polls all of its membership. The preference poll results are released several weeks prior to election day. Results can be obtained by calling the state bar or checking our web site. They are often reported in local newspapers as well.
Public Appearances. During the campaign, candidates frequently make public appearances at community meetings such as Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs. Voters get a chance to meet the candidates and get a sense of their style and personality. They will often answer questions about their work history and their community commitment. They cannot answer any questions that may indicate or influence how they might rule from the bench. This is to ensure that they are not bound to those statements, and can rule impartially if elected. To find out if there are any public appearances scheduled, contact the candidates office, or check your community newspapers calendar for event and speaker listings.
Case Histories. For voters who have time to do some homework, many candidates have at least a few cases that can be used to analyze their professional expertise, personal leanings, penchant for balance, and in some cases their temperament or ability to consider all sides. Sitting judges who are seeking reelection or promotion to a higher bench often have written opinions that can give readers a sense of their qualifications and professionalism. For lawyers seeking their first appointment to the bench, voters can seek information about major cases theyve worked on throughout their career. Both of these histories can be researched at the library, or the archives of community newspapers.
For more information, visit the Secretary of State website.
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