Issue: Judicial Accountability and Performance Evaluation

Since 1948, The Missouri Bar has been evaluating judges appointed under the Non-Partisan Court Plan and providing that information to voters. Over the years, the evaluation process has evolved – from a simple straw vote on whether each judge should be retained to a comprehensive process that includes surveys of attorneys and jurors. The Missouri Bar currently funds the evaluation process, which was created by a Supreme Court of Missouri rule in 2008. The Missouri system of evaluation was developed after the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee studied model rules and best practices from the American Bar Association and more than 20 judicial performance evaluation systems across the county.

Committees of lawyers and non-lawyers evaluate each judge and recommend whether or not the judge should be retained. The committees rely upon a variety of sources of information on each of the judges – lawyers' ratings of all judges, jurors' ratings of some trial judges, written opinions of appellate judges and written orders of trial judges. Jurors only evaluate the judge who had presided over the trial for which they had served. Jurors are asked a series of 10 questions about the judge's courtroom conduct. For instance: Did the judge clearly explain the legal issues of the case? Did the judge appear to be free from bias or prejudice? Did the judge appear to be well-prepared for the case?  The lawyers' evaluations focuses on key traits that judges need to render justice effectively and fairly.

The performance evaluations are published on The Missouri Bar's website, as well as on the websites of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, and www.showmecourts.org, a Missouri Bar website that explains the state's court system. Copies of the committees' recommendations of whether or not to retain each judge can be ordered free by calling The Missouri Bar. Libraries and courthouses also are provided a limited supply of the recommendations.