The right to vote in America is our most sacred right. We, the people, determine who will serve us in the government. Our decisions ultimately determine whether our government will function properly and effectively. It follows, therefore, that we have the duty to research the candidates and issues long before we enter the voting booth.
The New Mexico primary election season is in full swing. I have been receiving in the mail many glossy political circulars prepared by paid professional campaign consultants. And like everyone else, I am being bombarded with political ads on the radio and television. I do not give these mailings or ads a whole lot of weight and consideration.
Out of necessity, I conduct my own research on the candidates, as well as educate myself on any bond issues. I also consider recommendations from local newspapers, as well as endorsements from civic and political groups.
I cannot deny it. It takes a lot of time and effort. Which brings me to judicial elections, and specifically, judicial retention elections. There is good news on this front, very good news.
Voters who want reliable, accurate information on judicial retention candidates can access it easily and quickly, more so than any other candidates running for office. The click of a computer button will give New Mexico voters everything they need to know in deciding whether to retain a judge.
The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) provides voters with comprehensive summaries of every judicial retention candidate in New Mexico. The summaries are based upon hard, cold data collected by JPEC from respondents who are in the best position to evaluate judges – the people who work with and appear in front of judges every day.
Respondents who provide information to JPEC include police officers, lawyers, jurors and court staff. In civil cases heard in the Metropolitan Court, JPEC also utilizes anonymous courtroom observers who watch and evaluate trials and hearings before the court’s civil division judges.
This large and diverse pool of respondents is asked to rate the judges from zero (the worst) to five (the best) in numerous categories, including fairness, respect, knowledge and application of the law, and punctuality. Respondents finally are asked whether the judges should be retained. All responses are submitted anonymously, which guarantees honesty and candor. The process is immune from undue influence or interference by the judicial candidates.
The data is then tallied and compiled in an easy-to-read and understandable format. The information is disseminated on JPEC’s website well before any retention election. The website is nmjpec.org.
I just completed my most recent JPEC evaluation in anticipation of my candidacy for retention this November 2018. JPEC sent me the responses pertaining to my courtroom, and subsequently, I discussed the data with a panel of about 17 JPEC members. We reviewed my results. I answered their questions, and we talked about how I could continue to improve to be the best judge possible for the residents of Bernalillo County. My final scores and recommendation will be available to voters this fall, as will the scores and recommendations of my other colleagues on Metropolitan Court.
If you have not appeared in court before any of the judges up for retention, how on earth could you decide whether to retain any of them without the information provided by JPEC? You might hear a story on the television or radio about what one judge did in a particular case, but is that enough data to cast your ballot for that judge, much less all retention judicial candidates? Of course not. Without JPEC’s data and recommendations, researching every judge up for retention would be a Herculean task.
Let’s face it. Public servants run the gamut from excellent to incompetent. We voters have the responsibility to separate the wheat from the chaff and vote for responsible, qualified candidates. This generally takes time and effort. In the case of judicial retention candidates, however, JPEC already has done the work. Voters have all of the necessary, reliable and relevant information with which to ensure our state has a professional, ethical and reliable judiciary.
Judge Daniel Ramczyk is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.