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Evaluating the Performance of Judges Standing for Retention

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 79 Issue: 4 Dated: (January-February 1996) Pages: 190-197
D Y Joseph; M D Zimmerman; C E Ares; K K Stuart
Date Published
8 pages
This panel presentation examines the use of evaluation committees to assess the performance of judges standing for retention, so the public may have an objective assessment of a judge's performance.
If the merit plan is to work as intended and maintain its credibility with the public, voters must have the means to learn about a particular judge's record. Yet the uncontested nature of retention elections and their generally low visibility, along with ethical restraints on judges' campaign behavior, combine to form an information vacuum. Several merit selection States are working to fill this information gap through judicial performance evaluation programs that serve dual purposes; they intend to improve judicial performance and provide information to voters in retention elections. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah currently conduct retention evaluations, and Tennessee will begin doing so for the 1996 retention elections. The evaluation committees, usually composed of attorneys, lay people, and judges, assess such qualities and skills as integrity, legal ability, communication skills, ability to work effectively with court personnel and other judges, punctuality, and administrative skills. Some States also evaluate judges' compliance with case processing standards and continuing education requirements. Summaries of the findings are discussed first with the judges being reviewed and then are made available to the public in a variety of ways. At the American Judicature Society's annual meeting on August 5, 1995, a panel of judges and evaluation committee members examined such issues as the structure and operation of evaluation commissions, their impact on judges and the public, and some of the problems in developing and maintaining evaluation programs. An edited transcript of the panel presentation is provided.