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How To Make An Informed Decision When Voting For Judges In Missouri And Kansas In 2018

Kansas Court of Appeals
The Kansas Court of Appeals

When voters head to the polls on Nov. 6, they’ll encounter a slew of down-ballot names they’ve likely never heard of: judges standing for retention.

In Kansas, 101 judges are on the ballot statewide; in Missouri, 58.

Are these retention votes really important?

“Vitally important,” according to Larry Tucker, senior counsel at the Armstrong Teasdale law firm and a former president of the Missouri Bar.

“So much of the state’s business and so much of the interest that we have as citizens of the state of Missouri come before the courts,” Tucker told Up to Date’s Steve Kraske. “We want the very best, the most efficient, the fairest, the most impartial people we can have.”

Both Missouri and Kansas have merit selection systems.

In Missouri, it generally works like this: A commission (composed of three lawyers chosen by the Missouri Bar, three citizens selected by the governor and the Missouri chief justice) nominates three candidates for each judicial vacancy. The names are submitted to the governor, who chooses from among the three.  

In the general election following the judge’s first year of service, the judge must stand in a retention election. If a majority votes against retention, the judge is removed. If a majority favors retention, the judge remains for a full term of office.

After that, the judges stand for retention every few years, the interval depending on whether they’re trial, appellate or supreme court judges. (Since the plan’s adoption in Missouri nearly 80 years ago, no appellate judge has been voted out of office, and only three trial judges have been voted out of office.)

The idea, of course, is to remove the role of politics in selecting judges.

“Kansans believe judges should be independent of politics as much as possible,” Greg Musil, an Overland Park lawyer who’s been active in promoting judicial merit selection in Kansas, said on Up to Date. “It's not 100 percent ever, because human beings are political animals, but (we) do it as best we can.”

Since most voters have little interaction with the courts, how can they be expected to cast an informed vote?

If you’re voting in Johnson County, where 15 judges are up for retention, you can go to the Johnson County Bar Association’s website, jocobar.org, and view a survey of 325 lawyers who evaluated the judges. (Judges in Wyandotte County are chosen in partisan elections.)

Beyond that, Musil recommends that people talk to their attorney friends.

“They practice or know somebody that practices in front of a judge, and that's probably the best way to find out whether that judge should be retained or not,” Musil said.


Johnson County district court judges up for retention:

Kansas Court of Appeals judges up for retention:

Credit Missouri Supreme Court
The Missouri Supreme Court


On the Missouri side, voters can consult yourmissourijudges.org, which provides information and performance evaluations about all the judges up for retention.

Jackson County circuit court judges up for retention:

Jackson County associate circuit judges up for retention:

Clay County associate circuit judges up for retention:

Missouri Court of Appeals judges up for retention:

Missouri Supreme Court judges up for retention:

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Patrick McAnany as standing for retention. He is not up for retention this year. 

You can hear Steve Kraske's full conversation with Larry Tucker and Greg Musil on KCUR's Up to Date.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter, @DanMargolies.

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Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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