Here's an opinion piece I wrote for the Albuquerque paper some time ago about this very subject and how it works in N.M.
The worst judge I ever had to appear before was Dist. Judge Paul Onuska of Farmington, N. Mex. He was picked and appointed under the very system Justice O'Connor favors. After 18 years he was finally not "retained" by the voters, by a tiny margin. If he had served in a large media market, he'd still be on the bench. Here's the website I put up about him: http://judicialtruth.com/index.html
Collectively, the best judges I served before were in Zimbabwe, right after Independence. To be a magistrate there, you had to pass a civil service exam, and then be selected by a board, I believe. Then you sat beside an experienced magistrate and heard cases with him, and he tutored you on the art of deciding cases for about 6 mos. Then they sent you to do the same thing with another experienced magistrate. Then they gave you a minor court in a big courthouse, where you could call on your more experienced fellow judges when you needed help. You climbed up the ladder by being a good judge. It was not a place for prima donnas, ignoramuses or lazy bones.
Obviously anyone can make a bad initial choice in picking a judge regardless of who does the choosing. But partisan elections make it more difficult to remove poor judges and on occasion cause the removal of the better candidate. We must find a way to remove the influence of money in judicial elections. I do not have the answer, but I recognize the need to solve the problem, just as others have on this forum. Merit Selection and Appoint Now and Grisham to the Rescue.
On that note, here's an interesting fact: If I recall my numbers correctly, all but 7 states appoint their local judges, whereas all but 3 states elect their local prosecutors (in the other 3, the state AG appoints local prosecutors).
Why the discrepancy?
Posts: 2418 | Location: TDCAA | Registered: March 08, 2002
I think to some extent it reflects the amount of discretion each official should have in setting office policies- prosecution decisions such as intake, charging, sentencing, pretrial diversions, trial frequency, and many, many others are a direct reflection of community standards. The fine for a first time DWI in Texas might vary from one county to another by a factor of 10. However, the ruling on a suppression hearing ought to be relatively consistent across the entire state. I realize that judges do end up making discretionary decisions (probation, shock probation, etc) but by the time a case has gotten there the ADA has made a half dozen discretionary decision that ought to reflect local community standards.