A friend of mine from church who regularly reads this column asked me a couple of weeks ago, about the judges up for retention on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election. He asked some really good questions that made me realize that voters are faced with the decision to retain these judges and have no clue how to vote.

A friend of mine from church who regularly reads this column asked me a couple of weeks ago, about the judges up for retention on the ballot for the Nov. 2 election. He asked some really good questions that made me realize that voters are faced with the decision to retain these judges and have no clue how to vote.

The first question my friend had for me was whether any of these judges “make law from the bench.” I recognize my friend to be a conservative and understood that he did not want to vote to retain any judge who was an “activist judge” who made law rather than following existing law.

I informed him that the trial judges, who are the circuit judges on the ballot and the associate circuit judges, have no opportunity to make new law as their responsibility is to apply existing law.

There are occasions when Missouri law is either silent or confusing on a particular issue and thus they must make a decision as to what they think the law is, but this is very rare. Even in such situations, the trial judge’s decision is always subject to appeal, which is why the appellate courts exist.

Thus, a trial judge rarely, if ever, has an opportunity to make law that has far-reaching impact. Thus, my friend need not be worried about activist trial judges.

With regard to the appellate judges, there are two levels of appellate judges, the court of appeals judges, which in our situation are the appellate judges for the Western District of Missouri, and the Supreme Court judges.

There are several court of appeals judges up for retention and only one Supreme Court judge. I informed my friend who was concerned about activist judges that the court of appeals judges rarely have the opportunity to make new law and to be “activist judges.” Their primary function is to examine existing law and to make determinations based on existing law.

There are occasions when the three appellate districts are in disagreement, and there are occasions when the law is silent on a particular issue, but the judges look to existing law to render decisions even in such circumstances.

I informed my friend that in my opinion none of the appellate judges up for retention were activist judges and in fact the Supreme Court judge was appointed by former Gov. Matt Blunt. I suspect my friend had voted for Gov. Blunt and I let him conclude that it was unlikely that Gov. Blunt would appoint someone who would be an activist judge.

My friend then asked how the common voter who was not a lawyer would ever know whether to retain a judge or not, and I told him that the lawyers do rate these judges. These ratings are available to the public and provide an excellent resource to determine how the lawyers feel about judges.

I also joked with him and suggested that perhaps he would want to know how the lawyers think so he could vote the exact opposite of what the lawyers thought, but I did tell him that most lawyers voted honestly, and since the judge would never know how the lawyer voted, the polls on the judges were a very good source to find out about a judge since lawyers know the judges best.

I also informed my friend that there were judges who received poor ratings and so if a judge was not doing his or her job properly, I am confident the lawyers would let the judges and the public know.

If you want to obtain information about the judges up for retention in Jackson County, you may go the website of the Missouri Bar to www.mobar.org/data/judges10/jackson.htm, or just go to the Missouri Bar website at www.mobar.org and there is place for you to click on “Judging the Judges.” There is a biography of each judge and for each of the judges there are actually opinions for the public to read to get some sense of the judge’s rulings.

I told my friend that all of the judges should be retained. He also wanted to know how often the judges were up for retention and I informed him that a new judge held office for a term ending December 31st following the next general election after the expiration of twelve months in office, and then he or she had to be retained by the voters. Under Article V, Section 19 of the Missouri Constitution, the term of circuit judges is six years, associate circuit judges is four years, and for all appellate judges the term is 12 years.

He wanted to know if the judges had lifetime appointments like the federal judges and I assured him they did not. I share his feelings about lifetime appointments.

The last thing I told my friend was not to listen to the garbage that a small minority of people advocate getting rid of the current system of selecting judges so we can have elected judges. I told my friend that if he wanted to put elections up to the highest bidder, those who could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an election like they do in Texas and Illinois, and then be subject to being replaced every four years at the next election, you would have judges elected who either were independently wealthy and could afford to give up their law practices with no expectation of being re-elected, or those who have cozy relationships with wealthy contributors.

The non-partisan court plan works well, and if he wanted to educate himself about a particular judge, there was a method available to do so.