Most trial court judges first obtain their positions via the appointment process, and incumbent judges generally are not challenged. In the June elections, 150 of 151 incumbent judges in L.A. County are running unopposed. ....
In California, Supreme Court judges and appellate judges are appointed by the governor and must be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. This panel is composed of the attorney general, the chief justice and a senior presiding justice of the state Court of Appeal.
Appellate judges must be approved by the voters at the next general election after their appointment, and stand for retention elections at the end of their terms. These are uncontested elections in which the voters decide only whether a judge gets to remain in his or her seat. Appellate judges serve 12-year terms (unless they are serving out the remainder of a vacated term).
Trial court judges serve six-year terms. For these positions, any attorney who meets the constitutional requirements can file to run for an open seat or to contest a sitting judge.
For decades, the Legislature has also required that the governor request an investigation of all potential appointees by the State Bar's Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation. The commission's recommendations are nonbinding but persuasive.
Jessica Levinson's views seem to me quite sensible. She describes the process for appointing California Supreme Court and appellate judges as
"a strong model for the type of system we should adopt for all state judges. But instead of standing for retention elections in the case of appellate judges, or regular elections in the case of trial court judges, all judgeships could originally be filled by gubernatorial appointment, followed by potential reappointment by the governor, with approval by the Commission on Judicial Appointments."