Black’s Law Dictionary defines a judge as “a public officer, appointed to preside and to administer the law in a court of justice; the chief member of a court, and charged with the control of proceedings and the decision of questions of law or discretion.” The judge will decide the case based on the evidence, usually immediately after the trial.
The judge allowed the plaintiff to show nearly all of the pictures of the accident and injuries to the jury as evidence despite the defendant’s objection to this.
Depew v. Sullivan gives a good example of what powers the judge can use. As a result of an accident, Mr. Depew (plaintiff) sued Mr. Sullivan (defendant) for his injuries. When the plaintiff failed to provide documents to the defendant, the defendant filed a motion to force him to provide it. The judge agreed with this motion ordering the plaintiff to provide those documents. When the plaintiff still failed to do this, the judge ordered them to pay for the defendant’s attorney costs coming from this request. Because the defendant left on a mission, the plaintiff wanted to ask jury members if they had family members on a mission, but the judge denied that request instead allowing a different question. The plaintiff also objected to one of the defendant’s witnesses, but the judge overruled (i.e. denied) that objection. When the jury found the defendant 100% not guilty, the judge ordered the plaintiff to pay the defendant for all of his attorney costs.
Other Important Information
Judges are given the power to decide a number of issues such as what evidence can be introduced, how the jury is instructed before they debate their decision, and what motions, objections, and other measures may be allowed. For a complete list see this link. A judge is often called “your honor” or referred to as the “honorable” judge or “the court” in the courtroom. Utah law holds a judge to a standard of ethics outlined by professor Steve Averett, including avoiding other political or judicial involvement, bias, and improper behavior. To understand how Utah’s court system is set up, including the different types of judges, see this link. Utah’s laws also lay out the terms of office for a judge. You can find the biographies for all of the Utah judges here. For more information of Utah’s judges, see the Utah State Court’s website.
How is a Judge Selected?
Utah sets up bipartisan nominating commissions in all the judicial districts in the state. Judges are selected based on a Merit System. Lawyers and citizens are members of this commission that reviews the applications, conducts interviews with the applicants, and assesses the qualifications of each judge applicant. The commission then submits a list of the most qualified applicants to the governor. The governor then picks a name from the list to fill a judiciary vacancy. The appointee must then appear before the Senate for confirmation. After serving an initial term of office, the judge is regularly placed on the ballot for a “retention election,” and citizens get to decide whether or not they will retain that person as a judge. Retention elections provide a mechanism whereby those judges who are failing to live up to their responsibilities to the citizens can be removed from the bench. Unlike popular elections or appointment, merit selection seeks to balance judicial independence (by removing – as muh as possible – direct political control over judges) with public accountability (by allowing citizens to decide whether the judge is retained in office).
Photo “Swearing In Ceremony for Judge Douglas Nazarian” copyright by Maryland GovPics.