With all the attention that has been directed to candidates and ballot propositions, it is easy to forget that the ballot also lists a number of judges and asks for a vote on whether each judge should be retained. Some voters may find this part of the ballot puzzling, but it is really quite straightforward. A "Yes" vote means you believe the person should continue serving as a judge.
But how should people decide whether to vote "Yes" or "No?" The best way is to study the recommendations of the Alaska Judicial Council, which are found in the voter pamphlet put out by the Division of Elections.
This year the Alaska Judicial Council recommends a "Yes" vote on all of the judges appearing on the ballot. Some people may wonder why they should trust its recommendations.
The Alaska Judicial Council is established by the Alaska Constitution. It is made up of lawyers and non-lawyers from throughout Alaska. It is non-partisan and not beholden to any special interest group. Before each election, the council gathers information and conducts extensive surveys to determine how well each judge is doing his or her job. The council contacts lawyers, jurors, victims' rights organizations, and law enforcement personnel, including local police and the Alaska State Troopers, and holds hearings so members of the public can speak about the judges. The council carefully studies the information it collects and then recommends whether each judge who will be on the ballot should be retained.
When we exercise our right to vote on judges, it is important to remember that judges are not politicians and the retention question should not be a political one. The founders of our state recognized that a fair, impartial and independent judiciary is vital to preserving the balance of powers among the branches of government and to protecting the rights of everyone.
This year, some of the judges on the ballot have been attacked by individuals who disagree with a few of their decisions. Don't be misled. We all disagree with court decisions at one time or another. Every court case has a winner and a loser. Someone inevitably is unhappy. As tempting as it might be, we should resist the urge to evaluate judges based on the popularity of individual decisions. Judicial protection of the rights of unpopular causes or people is the price we pay to protect all of our rights and to assure that rights cannot be denied because of changing fashions, leadership, or special interests.
All Alaskans lose when judges cannot apply the law without fear of being targeted by special interest groups. A judge who is dishonest, lazy, biased, or not competent does not deserve to be retained in office, and Alaska Judicial Council has recommended against retaining judges for these reasons in the past. If you want an unbiased and well-documented recommendation, listen to the Alaska Judicial Council. Vote "Yes" on all the judges who are up for retention.
Susan A. Burke