Evaluating a Judicial Candidate

Catherine Stafford.jpg

As I talk to voters about my campaign for judge, many have had some great questions, such as:

How do you feel about minimum sentencing guidelines?

Would you have a preference for moms or for dads in custody?

How would you rule on cases where . . . . [insert custom situation here]?

Unfortunately, those are just the types of questions that judicial candidates have trouble answering.  And for a good reason:  judicial candidates are already bound by some of the same ethical rules that apply to sitting judges.  For example, we cannot make pledges, promises, or commitments on issues that could come before our courts. 

However, a judicial candidate may make "campaign promises related to judicial organization, administration, and court management, such as a promise to dispose of a backlog of cases, start court sessions on time, or avoid favoritism in appointments and hiring. A candidate may also pledge to take action outside the courtroom, such as working toward an improved jury selection system, or advocating for more funds to improve the physical plant and amenities of the courthouse." (Comment 16 to Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 4.1)

So, as a voter, if you can't ask questions about positions, what can you look for in a judicial candidate?  The American Bar Association issued a report called Standards on State Judicial Selection in 2000 that listed a few traits to consider, including experience, integrity, professional competence, judicial temperament, service to the law, and contribution to the effective administration of justice.  There's a blog post from C. Dale McClain, the then-President of the Pennsylvania Bar Association that lists ten factors voters can consider.  The factors McClain lists are:

1. Legal ability.

2. Trial or other similar experience that ensures knowledge of the law and courtroom procedures. 

3. A record and reputation for excellent character and integrity. 

4. Financial responsibility. 

5. Judicial temperament. 

6. Mental and physical capacity to fulfill the duties of judicial office. 

7. Record of community involvement. 

8. Administrative ability. 

9. Devotion to improvement of the quality of justice. 

10. Demonstrated sound judgment in professional life. 

In future posts, I'll treat each factor individually. 

Wishing you and yours the best,

~Catherine

Catherine Stafford