Federal and State Judges are selected differently because they have different jurisdictions. In Utah, our state court hierarchy starts with Justice Court and Small Claims Court and ends at the Supreme Court.
Justice Court and Small Claims Court. In this court, the decision-maker is called a Justice. Justices hear cases and enter convictions. Applicants for the Justice position are not required to have a legal education or be a licensed attorney. Justices are initially appointed by either the county commission or city council and retained by appointment or election every six years. You may experience Justice Court if you get a speeding ticket, are charged with possession of an illegal drug, or your dog gets loose. If you have a monetary dispute or unpaid debt, you might get a summons from Small Claims Court. Sevier County has three Justice and Small Claims Courts in Richfield, Salina, and Aurora. Wayne County and Piute County have one Justice Court at the county seat. Garfield County has one court in Panguitch. Criminal court cases decided in Justice Court can be reheard in District Court, without review. Small Claims cases can also be removed to District Court or appealed to District Court.
State Judges for District, Appellate, and Supreme Courts. Unlike other states, Utah judges are selected by committee and not by election. This means the Governor appoints a committee of lawyers and nonlawyers from each judicial district to nominate five potential judges. The nominations are then interviewed by the Governor’s office.
Retention. Three years after the judge or justice is selected, their ability to stay on the bench is up for public vote in the first general election. District and Appellate Judges are up for retention and every six years, after their first vote. Supreme Court Justices are up for retention every ten years after the initial election.
A retention vote means you, the voter, choose if the judge or justice shall be retained. If you like the judge or justice’s actions, you vote “yes” and if you do not, then you vote “no.” If the judge receives more “yes” votes than “no” votes, the justice or judge is retained. If judge receives more “no” votes than “yes” votes, the judge is not retained and the position must be filled through the appointment process.
Who are your judges? What is their legal and professional history? You can find out more about each judge and justice in the Sixth District – including Sevier, Wayne, Piute, and Garfield Counties – by looking up their information online through the Utah Courts website and Judge Bios. If you would like to become a judge but do not have law license or degree, look for the Justice Court and Small Claims openings with the Utah Courts. If you have a legal license, polish your reputation and maintain your integrity so you can be nominated by your local committee.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435.610.1431.