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Megan O'Neill
Megan O'Neill
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Judging the Judges Before You Hit the Polls

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This November, voters will have the final say on Missouri judges who are up for retention elections in their respective communities.

Missouri’s non-partisan court plan – adopted by voters more than 70 years ago – reduces political party influence, abolishes campaigning and gives a transparent approach to the selection and retention of the judiciary. Voted into operation in 1940, the plan has influenced state judiciary selection methods in more than 30 other states.

Retention elections are the final piece of Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan, known more commonly as the Missouri Plan, the state’s constitutional system for choosing judges to serve on the Supreme Court, the three appeals courts, and in the circuit courts in the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, Jackson County, Clay County, Platte County and Greene County.

Judges, appointed by the governor from a panel of three applicants forwarded by a nominating commission, stand before the public in a retention election after serving their first 12-month period on the bench and at the end of each term.

Because this court plan supports the public’s faith in fair and impartial judges, voters are encouraged to educate themselves before hitting the polls.

Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees release recommendations early in the election season recommending whether or not judges facing retention elections should return to the bench.

Using a rating system implemented by the Missouri Supreme Court, the committees, comprised of both lawyers and non-lawyers, evaluated 51 judges this year and recommend only one be ousted. Since the plan was adopted in 1940, only 2 judges have been turned out of office.

The evaluation procedure incorporates lawyer and juror (when applicable) surveys of each judge, written opinions by the judge, biographical and disciplinary information, and more.

The Missouri Bar has produced http://www.ShowMeCourts.org, a website intended to distribute the evaluation information and educate voters. The website posts a breakdown of each Missouri judges’ assessment, lawyer survey results, juror survey results, peer survey results and various written opinions.

Because the system of appointing judges is so transparent and dependent on the public’s decision, it is important to recognize that the final say is open to voters. With many judges on the ballot, voters are encouraged to seek this quality information and statistics that the state bar has made available.