Judicial Elections, what is a lawyer’s role?

Most people don’t know much about judicial elections, and most don’t care. Why should people care? What are the chances that the particular judge up for election will actually be asked to decide an issue for an individual voter? Very small. On the other hand, Governors, Senators and Representatives in the House will vote on issues that affect everyone.

But here’s the rub. If a judge does end up deciding an issue for an individual (a criminal case, divorce, business dispute or other matter), that elected official will have more input into that voter’s life than any other elected official, including the President of the United States. In Georgia we elect our judges so we have a choice in who we want resolving our disputes. Many people complain about judges, but we (or they) voted them into office.

I have heard judges discuss how interesting it is that judicial races are so far below the radar. There is no general polling and not much interest in judicial races compared to other elected offices. Yet judges, of all elected officials, carry so much power. Who else has the ability to impose a sentence of life imprisonment (or sometimes death), to remove your children from you, to kick you out of your home, to order you to pay or receive large sums of money following a car wreck? Yes, sometimes a jury can answer these questions, but judges still govern the courtroom and in child custody cases, there are no jury trials.

So what can we all do? Get educated. Learn about the current judges and those running against them. And who best to learn from? Lawyers, especially trial lawyers. Those of us who are in the courtroom regularly have a duty to tell our friends, our clients and anyone we know what we think about judges. Who the good judges or candidates are. True this will just be our opinion and may be no more valid than anyone else’s, but we have at least seen the judges in action and heard about the judges’ general reputations from our respected colleagues. And perhaps even more importantly, judges are at a disadvantage. To maintain their professionalism, there are severe limits on what they can or should say. They cannot comment about certain cases and generally stay out of public debates. So who will speak for them? We must.

So if you are a lawyer and if you are concerned about our future as a society governed by laws, spread your knowledge. And if you are not a lawyer, or not a trial lawyer, ask the trial lawyers you know what they think. That spot on the ballot for “judge” may just be the most important box you check.