CBJ’s work begins well in advance of the primary election. The Advisory Board meets to identify candidates for vacancies on the bench, develop an interview and endorsement schedule, and discuss fund-raising and advertising. Thereafter, each candidate who files for judicial office is invited to an interview with the members of CBJ. All candidates who meet the group for an interview are assured that any discussion that transpires during the course of the interview will be held in the strictest of confidence. Similarly, within the organization, members of both the Steering Committee and the Citizens Review Board maintain confidentiality with respect to comments made by members during the interview and, especially, the endorsement process. Early on, confidentiality was recognized as a most important ingredient in effectively achieving the organization’s purpose and assuring fairness in the process to both the candidates and the membership. Without it, the free and open discourse which is essential to full deliberation becomes inhibited and the CBJ membership’s best efforts to thoroughly examine and discuss the qualifications of candidates are compromised.
All interviews are of the same duration and focus on five major topic areas suggested as critical by the American Bar Association in its guidelines on the evaluation of candidates for judicial office. Those topics include: (1) personal attributes such as physical and mental health, family or financial problems which the candidate believes would affect his or her ability to preside impartially, reasons for seeking election or re-election, public service and civic involvement, etc.; (2) legal knowledge and ability including academic record, experience, professional achievements, continuing legal education, analytical approach, etc.; (3) court management skills such as supervisory and organizational abilities, work ethic, ideas about improvement of the judicial system, etc.; (4) judicial temperament relating to qualities such as fairness and impartiality in the conduct of proceedings, decisiveness, dignity, decorum, compassion, etc.; and (5) judicial integrity as reflected by adherence to the Code of Judicial Conduct, enforcement of the Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to attorneys appearing before him or her, uniformity of rulings, susceptibility to influence, ratings in the Louisville Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation and Judicial Candidate Poll, etc. Throughout the interview, recognition is given to the fact that judicial candidates are bound by the Code of Judicial Conduct in their campaigns for election and every effort is made to avoid questions which would infringe on their ethical obligations. At the completion of each interview, the candidate is given an opportunity to summarize his or her qualifications and make a statement in support of his or her candidacy.
After all the interviews have been completed, the CBJ membership meets to consider the information obtained during the interviews, including (1) the candidate’s resume; (2) a summary of the questions asked and answers given at the interview; (3) personal observations and opinions of those attending the interview; and (4) comments of members based upon personal experience with the candidate which are relevant to his or her qualifications. CBJ then follows a written endorsement procedure which is incorporated into its bylaws. Basically, a candidate must receive a favorable vote of three-quarters of the Steering Committee who are present and voting, but not less than ten favorable votes in order to be endorsed. Thereafter, the endorsement of the Steering Committee is submitted to the Citizens Review Board for approval. This approval is based upon the Citizens Review Board’s determination that the interview process and endorsement procedure was fully and fairly conducted by the Steering Committee and the endorsement was made in accordance with CBJ’s bylaws. If the Citizens Review Board does not approve an endorsement, the matter is returned to the Steering Committee for further consideration and appropriate action.
In some instances in the past, CBJ has been faced with races which included more than one qualified candidate and others which included no qualified candidates. In the former situation, CBJ adopted a policy that only one candidate would be endorsed based upon the rationale that the purpose of the organization was to recommend and support the best candidate for election and, if the organization was unable to make such a choice, it could not expect the electorate
to do so. In the latter situation, precedent has been established for not making any endorsement in a race where CBJ determines that the candidates are unqualified and do not meet the high standards for endorsement. It was agreed that, to do otherwise, would compromise the credibility of the organization and defeat its announced purpose. Furthermore, it is hoped that such action sends a message to the candidates which will improve the performance of the individual who is ultimately elected or, in the alternative, encourage other qualified candidates to seek election to that position in the future.
[Note: The above is an adaptation of an article authored by Mr. Goyette for publication in the 1991-92 edition of The Kentucky Journal
(Kentucky Center for Public Issues)]