By REBECCA PALMER
BOUNTIFUL — All Davis County district judges should be retained in the upcoming elections, according to a new online publication by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), an independent commission created by the Utah Legislature in 2008.
Of six Davis County Judges up for retention in Farmington’s 2nd District Court, three scored above average in surveys sponsored by the commission, one scored below average and two scored highly in some areas but not in others.
“Clearly, there is no such thing as a perfect judge,” wrote Anthony W. Schofield, chairman of JPEC in an op-ed column. “Yet, for all the judges standing for retention election this year, JPEC has been impressed with their diligence, their commitment to fairness and their strong sense of public service. Across the board this year, the overall quality of the judges on the ballot is excellent.”
Judge Janice Frost was recommended unanimously, as were the other five judges, but scored below average in all categories of the report. Her scores declined between her mid-term evaluation and her final evaluation, which was published in the report.
The report was based on surveys of attorneys, regular citizens, court staff and jurors.
Frost’s problems were likely caused by the sudden death and two judicial retirements of judges in her district, according to the JPEC report. She received especially low scores in convening court without undue delay, realistically managing her calendar, respecting time and personal and financial costs to courtroom participants, avoiding ex parte communications, making sound rulings, and applying rules of procedure and evidence properly. However, all of the lay people and attorneys who evaluated her spoke of her positively and praised her “compassionate yet firm demeanor.”
Judge Scott Hadley was considered polite, respectful and willing to listen but some attorneys raised questions in the report about his inclination and ability to adequately manage and decide difficult and complex cases. He scored slightly below average in giving appropriate sentencing and holding attorneys accountable for inappropriate conduct but especially high in ruling in a timely manner, avoiding impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and treating all attorneys with equal courtesy and respect.
Judge Mark DeCaria scored higher than average in every survey category and Judge Michael DiReda scored higher on average in every survey category and on every survey question. DeCaria, a former Weber County Attorney, scored especially high in making sound rulings, making appropriate findings of fact and holding attorneys accountable for inappropriate conduct.
DiReda, a fairly new judge to the district, saw his scores improve markedly between his mid-term evaluation and the final evaluation. Before taking the bench, he worked as deputy Davis County attorney for 15 years. He has also worked as Centerville City prosecutor and Clinton City prosecutor.
Mid-term evaluations are confidential and provided only to the judges in question.
DiReda scored especially high on making appropriate findings of fact, considering both sides of an argument and understanding the personal and financial costs of courtroom participants. He scored below average on making observers feel the court system is fair, having constructive interactions with court staff, promoting public trust and confidence in the court and treating all people equally.
Judge W. Brent West also scored highly, but some surveyors thought he had become uncharacteristically impatient. He scored low on accommodating changing technology, managing staff effectively and treating all people equally but high in most other categories, especially understanding time and personal and financial costs of courtroom participants and applying rules of procedure properly.
Survey respondents called Judge Davis Connors intelligent, but some also called him indecisive. A former litigator and mayor of Farmington City, Connors scored below average on holding attorneys accountable for inappropriate conduct and following the rules of criminal procedure but high on treating all attorneys with equal respect and avoiding impropriety and the appearance of it, among other things.
Evaluation reports for all 25 judges up for retention in Utah are available at judges.utah.gov, for the first time ever. You can also visit JPEC on Facebook or submit any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information is also available in the Voter Information Pamphlet. JPEC is made up of 13 people, only half of whom can be attorneys. These 13 people review the survey reports before making their recommendations.
“The time is here – Be sure to vote,” Schofield wrote. “And remember that an informed vote is the best vote!”