As a lawyer, a question that pops up from non-lawyers every election is: who should I pick for judge? If you don’t vote among party lines, evaluating the differences between judicial candidates can be a challenge.
Lawyers are generally an esteemed bunch who presume their opinions matter to others and therefore, are almost always happy to provide an endorsement on demand. I usually give one. But are they giving you enough information to know whether it should be considered as part of your selection process?
The main problem is that if the candidate is not a judge, the endorsement is based on evidence other than judicial experience. There is no direct evidence that someone would be a good elected judge. There are only opinions based on limited information.
I have a few things to consider when evaluating the quality of the judicial endorsement.
The first thing to ask is: what’s the political party of the attorney endorsing the candidate? Even though judicial races are non-partisan, it is rare to see an attorney endorse a candidate who was not of their political party. An attorney who does such an endorsement may be worth listening to.
The second thing to ask is: what’s the basis of the endorser’s knowledge? Attorneys that have had cases with or against the candidate are great endorsers – their work together provides a direct opportunity to observe the strength of the candidate’s legal knowledge and civility.
However, with the number of attorneys in the area, it is more likely the endorser has no direct experience with the candidate. In that case, the endorsing attorney’s recommendation is based on something other than direct knowledge, like political party or reputation. Reputation in the community does not always correlate to judicial capability.
The third thing to ask is: is the candidate an active judge or magistrate? Attorneys with direct working knowledge of the candidate’s judicial capability are great resources – but even then the question arises of the endorser’s impartiality. Is the endorsement based on legitimate belief or a desire to stay in the candidate’s good graces for a future case? It can be tough to tell.
As long as there are elected judges, there will be attorneys making endorsements. Good judges are the backbone of our legal system and we are fortunate locally to usually have excellent candidates. Attorney endorsements are helpful, but for the earnest voter, the weight you give those endorsements should be tempered by asking questions to understand the quality of the endorsement.
Terry W. Posey, Jr. is an litigator at Gottschlich & Portune LLP and a Miami Township Trustee. He is a graduate of the University of Dayton School of Law and the University of Virginia where he worked at a think tank promoting ethical political campaigning. Posey is a member of the Dayton Daily News' 2020/2021 Community Advisory Board.