Judicial Selection Process

How are judges selected?

 

The judges of the 16th Circuit Court in Jackson County are selected based upon merit using the national model known as the Nonpartisan Court Plan or Missouri Plan.  

The merit plan was created in Missouri in 1940 to reduce the role of politics in the judicial selection process.  At that time, the plan was intended to counteract the political machine and political bosses of Tom Pendergast in Kansas City.  Since then, the Missouri Plan has been adopted by more than 30 states to select judges.

Under the plan, the 16th Circuit Judicial Commission interviews all candidates who apply to be a judge. The interviews take place in a public setting, and the members of the public may attend and observe. 

The 16th Circuit Judicial Commission is comprised of five members.  Two members are lawyers elected by the bar, two members are lay people appointed by the governor, and one member is the chief judge of the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City.  The advantage of having attorneys and an appellate judge involved in the process is that they know of the legal reputations of their colleagues.

After interviewing the applicants and reviewing their qualifications, the Commission nominates three people whose names are then sent to the governor.  The governor interviews the three members of the panel, and has 60 days to appoint one of them as judge.  If the governor does not make an appointment within 60 days, the 16th Circuit Judicial Commission appoints the new judge. 

After the judge has served at least one year, he or she runs for retention in the next general election. There is no campaigning.  There are no opponents.  The judge's name appears on the ballot and voters are asked to vote "yes or no" as to whether the judge should be retained in office.  In order to remain in office, the judge must obtain a majority of the votes cast.  The judge faces a retention election at the conclusion of each term of office. Circuit judges serve a six year term and associate circuit judges serve a four year term.

Prior to an election, the Missouri Bar Association publishes an informational guide to help voters become more knowledgeable about the judges.  A judicial performance evaluation committee comprised of lawyers and lay people evaluate the performance of the judges in office.  The judges up for retention are asked to provide written decisions for review. In addition, the Missouri Bar surveys lawyers who actually appeared in front of the judges, and jurors who observed the judge during the course of a trial.  Those who are surveyed are asked their opinion on whether the judges treat people fairly, whether they are competent in the law, whether they weigh the evidence fairly and impartially, and so forth.  The surveys are available on the website of the Missouri Bar Association.