Note: This is part 2 of a series. You can find the first part of the series here.
In our December Our Towne article we explained the Judicial Branch and its basic structure. Each Court has a Judge. The New York Constitution sets forth how Judges in State Court are selected, which is that they are elected by voters.
Judge of the following Courts are elected by voters: Supreme Court – elected to a 14 year term; County Courts – elected to a 10 year term; Family Courts – outside of New York City, Family Court Judges are elected and serve 10 year terms. Within New York City, Family Court Judges are appointed by the Mayor; Surrogates Court – elected by voters and serve 10 year terms (outside of New York City) and for 14 year terms in New York City; City Courts – elected to 4 year terms.
Judicial races are often times not the focus of media attention. As a result, it can be difficult for voters to find information about the qualifications of each particular candidate. Fortunately, in New York, we have the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission (IJEQC’s) that were established in 2007 to rate the candidates in order to help voters make informed choices. A candidate’s participation in the evaluation process by IJEQC is voluntary. IJEQC can evaluate candidates in all 13 Judicial Districts throughout the State for the following courts: Supreme Court, Surrogates Court, New York City Civil Court, Family Court (outside NYC), County Court, City Court, and District Court.
IJEQC will evaluate both sitting Judges running for re-election and Attorneys who seek to become a judge for the first time. The purpose of IJEQC is to ensure that each candidate possesses the necessary qualities to become an effective judge. IJEQC members investigate the background and qualifications of each candidate by various methods. For example, the members will speak to references, Attorneys who have appeared before Judges seeking re-election, and other relevant members of the community. The process to be evaluated by IJEQC is extremely detailed, and includes having to produce professional writings and appearing at a personal interview with members. All proceedings conducted by IJEQC and the papers that are submitted to that entity are kept confidential. The ratings given by IJEQC are highly qualified, qualified or not qualified. Highly qualified and qualified ratings are valid for 3 years (absent a few exceptions), while candidates who are found not qualified are considered not qualified for that judicial office for one year from the dateof submission of the application to IJEQC. Rating for IJEQC can be found online at NY-IJEQC.org.
Judicial races are often times some of the most overlooked races by voters. As noted above, there is very little media attention given to these races. The issues are relatively not sexy, and people unfortunately do not have a better understanding of how court systems work. However, judicial races are extremely important to the public for a mired of reasons. Most notably, the Judicial Branch is a third branch of government that is charged with enforcing and interpreting the laws. Whether or not an individual is qualified to serve as a judge has great impact upon the people not only locally, but also Statewide.
For information as to the Judicial Selection Process in New York State, you can visit www.nycourts.gov. We hope you keep this information in mind when it is time to visit the polls again for judicial race.