By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia voters are focused on the race for mayor, but an equally important race is the one for the 20 open seats for judgeships in our area. The Philadelphia Bar Association is hoping to educate voters on nearly five dozen candidates.

With five dozen candidates vying for limited seats on the Supreme Court, Common Pleas, Superior, Commonwealth and Municipal Courts in the Philadelphia area, most voters have never heard the names on the ballot.

“We had close to 60 evaluations that the investigative team and the commission went through,” says Al Dandridge III, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

The group’s judicial selection and retention committee spent weeks investigating candidates and then rated them based on list of criteria, including legal ability, experience, integrity, judgement, temperament and judgement. Ratings included “recommended,” “not recommended” and for the first time, “highly recommended.”

“They had to be pre-eminent in the profession or highly skilled in order to be highly recommended,” says Dandridge.

As for those candidates who did not get the nod, Dandridge says it’s either because they did not submit to the Bar’s investigation or because they did not meet the standards required by the criteria. But, he says, the Bar goes through the trouble to help citizens decide which candidates are qualified to serve in such an important role.

“The judiciary in total probably has more contact with the citizens of Philadelphia than anybody else,” says Dandridge. “It has such a direct impact because when you go before a judge it’s usually something important in your life.”

According to polls, one-third of all Americans are involved in litigation at some point in their lifetime and a quarter are likely to become victim of a crime. If you add divorces, adoptions, probate for wills and other issues that require a judge’s input, most voters will be at the mercy of a judge at least once in their lives, and at that time, voters have no choice in judge.

“This is their chance to make a very important decision,” says Dandridge.

You can head to the bar association website for a list of bar’s ratings, and for a list of the recommendations and information on the candidates, head to seventy.org.