Hundreds of Utah Justice Court Judges in counties and cities pass judgment on thousands of their fellow Utahns but as Joanne Slotnik of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission told a committee Thursday, her commission can't evaluate these judges without funding to do so. “If you still want to do this...we're glad to do it but we can't do something with nothing.”
Slotnik spoke in support of House Bill 325 pitched by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, that would seek $83,000 in funding so that staff of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission could conduct observations and evaluations of Justice Court judges so that they could prepare summary information for voters to know more about judges whose names will appear on the ballots. Slotnik told the House Judiciary Committee that the commission would need to be approved for the funding now in order to prepare evaluations for the 2018 elections since it takes considerable time to conduct evaluations.
In 2009 JPEC was tasked with evaluating judges in the state that included the use of anonymous surveys whereby lawyers, court staff and jurors could discuss the professional conduct of the judges. While the commission was originally charged with evaluating all judges in time for the 2012 election they were overwhelmed and unable to evaluate justice court judges. Slotnik told the committee simply that her commission could not evaluate justice court judges now without the funding and that if this bill was shot down, her contingency plan would be to ask that JPEC not be required to fulfill an “unfunded mandate” in evaluating the judges.
The committee was very supportive of the bill, Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, acknowledged that while justice courts don't handle felonies they do handle a high volume of cases and need oversight since “the vast majority of the citizens of Utah that have contact with judges will be in the Justice Courts.”
The bill passed with unanimous support and now heads to the House floor for further debate.
To read HB325 click here. To contact Rep. Hutchings about his bill click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.