With Ohio’s primary election coming on May 6, 2014, voters in Cuyahoga County will soon be voting for judges once again. Ohio is one of only a few states left that select judges in partisan elections. A handful of other states selects judges in non-partisan elections, but most states now choose judges by merit-based appointment. Without getting into whether we should select judges by vote, how do voters know which judicial candidate to vote for? Frankly, in many cases they don’t.
It is no secret that judges in Cuyahoga County, and throughout Ohio, are sometimes elected on the basis of a familiar-sounding last name, regardless of qualifications. That, of course, is no way to pick a judge. After all, nobody in their right mind would choose a heart surgeon based solely on last name.
This is not a knock on voters. The vast majority of people simply do not have access to substantive information about judges and judicial candidates. Even attorneys often do not know every single judge, and certainly do not know every judicial candidate. If practicing attorneys don’t have enough information about each judge and judicial candidate, how can voters?
To address this problem, several years ago, the four local bar associations in Cuyahoga County joined forces to create the “Judicial Candidate Review Coalition,” more commonly known as “Judge4Yourself.” The goal of Judge4Yourself is to combat the “name game” by providing reliable, relevant, and independent information about candidates for judicial office. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s Judicial Selection Committee, which is part of Judge4Yourself).
The members of Judge4Yourself review written questionnaires, check references, and review writing samples submitted by judicial candidates in Cuyahoga County and for the Ohio Supreme Court. Judicial candidates also appear before the Coalition to answer questions. After that, Judge4Yourself rates the candidates based on a variety of factors, including intellect, experience, temperament, and integrity, among other things. The ultimate goal is to ensure that voters know which candidates are the most qualified, and which ones are not qualified.
While I typically represent individuals in employment discrimination cases, the importance of selecting the best possible judges expands far beyond just my area of practice. Judges in Ohio handle all sorts of cases—constitutional, criminal, juvenile, domestic, and breach of contract, just to name just a few. The decisions judges render have life-altering consequences for the parties. Those decisions affect the rest of our daily lives in countless ways as well. It is therefore critical that we vote for judges based on their abilities and qualifications, not their last names.
When you go to vote in the May 2014 primary, and in the future, I urge you to print out a copy of the Judge4Yourself ratings and bring it with you to the polls.