Frequently Asked Questions
What are the characteristics of a good judge? And how can people be assured that a judge is, in fact, doing a good job? These are questions that have been debated for thousands of years. But Missourians now have an easy way to learn about the performance of many of the judges we have entrusted to resolve everything from property disputes to life and death issues.
Through the work of judicial performance evaluation committees – groups composed of equal numbers of lawyers and non-lawyers – Missourians have access to in-depth analysis of the work being done by judges serving under the state’s non-partisan method of judicial selection and retention.
Missouri has two systems for electing judges: a partisan system and a Non-Partisan Court Plan.
Partisan elected judges run under a party label against challengers, unless no one chooses to oppose them. On the ballot, you will be asked which judicial candidate you prefer.
On the other hand, judges who serve under the Non-Partisan Court Plan do not run against challengers. You are asked to vote for or against them based on the strength of their performance on the bench. This is the group of judges this website addresses.
Because non-partisan judges don’t run against an opponent, they are prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from campaigning for retention. Due to this prohibition, and because judges serving under the plan are either appellate judges or serving in large metropolitan areas, voters often have a shortage of useful information to consider as they prepare to vote on the retention of these judges.
To help voters gain insight as to the qualifications of judges seeking retention this year, seven judicial performance evaluation committees – one for the state’s appellate courts and one for each of the six trial courts covered by the Non-Partisan Court Plan – have undertaken an evaluation of each non-partisan judge appearing on this year’s general election ballot. The 12-member committees, composed of equal numbers of lawyers and non-lawyers, have now issued their completed analysis of these judges.
For those appellate judges seeking retention, the appellate judicial performance evaluation committee studied the results of anonymous surveys completed by lawyers and court staff regarding each judge’s skills and qualifications. In addition, the appellate committee analyzed opinions issued by those judges.
The committees evaluating trial judges across the state used similar information to make their analysis, along with a survey of citizens who had served on juries at trials conducted by these judges.
Plus, the committees studied written opinions submitted by the judges for their legal reasoning and clarity.
After reviewing this information, the committees issued their recommendation regarding retention of these judges and completed a narrative explaining their recommendation.
This website showcases the narrative analysis for each non-partisan judge seeking retention this year. For those who are interested in more detail, the numerical results of the lawyer survey, juror survey and court staff survey for each judge are also available on this website, along with copies of the judges’ opinions.
Judges who serve under this plan are nominated by judicial commissions and then selected by the governor. After their first 12 months in office, non-partisan appointed judges must go before the voters in a retention election. Voters are asked whether each of these judges should be retained. To be retained, a judge must receive a majority vote. A similar retention election occurs at the end of each term of office.
If a judge does not receive a majority of votes, his or her judicial office will become vacant, and the nomination and selection process begins again.
Terms for appellate court judges are 12 years, while circuit judges serve six-year terms and associate circuit judges serve four-year terms.
The Non-Partisan Court Plan is designed to reduce the role of politics and money in the selection and retention of judges. It helps ensure the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary by shielding judges from undue pressure – such as inappropriate intrusion into judicial selection by political interests and the need to raise funds from partisan interests for a re-election campaign.
This innovative plan, approved by voters in Missouri in 1940 and since copied by more than 30 other states, has three other major advantages. First, because nominations for judicial openings are based on merit, Missourians are assured that highly qualified individuals are selected for non-partisan judicial positions. Second, each judge remains accountable to the citizens they serve, because citizens have the opportunity to decide whether a judge remains on the bench. Third, voters are able to decide a judge’s fate based on that judge’s record – not unsubstantiated allegations contained in an opponent’s political rhetoric or advertising.