Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluations Available to the Public at www.ShowMeCourts.org
Citizens Encouraged to Learn More About Judges Before They Vote Nov. 6th
JEFFERSON CITY, MO – The Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees today released their recommendations on whether each of the non-partisan judges who will be standing in retention elections in the upcoming November general election should or should not be retained on the bench.
“The Missouri Bar urges Missourians to read the evaluations in order to know more about their judges’ performances before they go to the polls this November,” said Missouri Bar President Lynn Whaley Vogel. “There is no better source of unbiased information on whether each judge is rendering fair, efficient and impartial justice.”
The performance evaluations of each judge is available online at www.showmecourts.org, a Missouri Bar website that explains the state’s court system. Links to the website can also be found on the Missouri Bar’s website www.mobar.org as well as on the websites of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association, www.kcmba.org, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, www.bamsl.org, and the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, www.smba.cc. Copies of the committees’ recommendations of whether or not to retain each judge can be ordered free by calling The Missouri Bar’s toll-free telephone number, 1-800-829-4128. Libraries, courthouses and senior centers will also have a limited supply of brochures with the recommendations.
The committees, comprised of lawyers and non-lawyers, evaluated a total of 51 judges including one Supreme Court judge, 8 appellate judges, 28 circuit court trial judges and 14 associate circuit court trial judges. In addition to their recommendations, the committees have also released the narrative summaries that provide extensive information about each judge’s performance, results of the juror evaluations of trial-level judges who presided over jury trials, and a survey of lawyers’ ratings of each judge.
The Missouri Bar has been evaluating judges appointed under the Non-Partisan Court Plan and providing that information to voters since 1948. 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 committee studied model rules and best practices from the American Bar Association and more than 20 judicial performance evaluation systems in the nation.
Missouri’s judges were evaluated by one of seven different committees, either an Appellate Judicial Evaluation Committee or a Circuit Judicial Evaluation Committee. The Appellate Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee consists of two members of The Missouri Bar from each district of the Court of Appeals and two citizens, not members of the bar, from each district. The other committees consist of six lawyers and six non-lawyers from their respective judicial circuit.
All committee members were appointed by the Board of Governors of The Missouri Bar. The board considered non-partisan, merit factors such as expertise, experience and knowledge ensuring the committee membership was reflective of the diversity of the committee’s constituencies.
“The balance of non-lawyers and lawyers on the committees and the evaluations by jurors means that Missouri citizens have a prominent role in the judicial performance evaluations,” said Dale Doerhoff, statewide coordinator of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees.
The committees rely on a variety of information on each judge, including lawyers’ ratings of all judges, jurors’ ratings of some trial judges, written opinions of appellate judges and written orders of trial judges. Jurors only evaluated the judge who had presided over the trial for which they served. Jurors were 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 focused on key traits that judges need to render justice effectively and fairly. Trial judges, circuit and associate circuit -level, were rated in 18 areas. These included a wide range of observable skills and traits, such as treating participants with respect; displaying competence in the law; giving reasons for rulings; and maintaining control over the proceedings.
Appellate level judges were rated on a different set of criteria. Appellate judges decide cases that are appealed because of possible legal errors, either procedural or through misinterpretations of the law. These judges were rated on areas such as whether their opinions were clearly written; whether they adequately explained the basis of the court’s decision; and whether they issued opinions in a timely manner.
For both appellate and trial judges, lawyers’ evaluations were converted into a numerical score between 1 and 5, with 1 being the poorest and 5 being the best.
“The evaluation process and the committees’ recommendations ensure that voters will have the information they need to make informed decisions about each of these non-partisan judges. Because of the volunteers who serve on the evaluation committees, Missourians have in-depth, unbiased evaluations rather than just campaign rhetoric to help shape their opinions,” said Vogel.
Missouri uses a merit system known as the Non-Partisan Court Plan to select its appellate judges and trial-level judges in St. Louis City and County, and Jackson, Clay, Platte and Greene Counties. In other parts of the state trial-level judges seek election in partisan races.
Before becoming a state judge, all non-partisan judges are screened by a nominating commission whose members include lawyers, non-lawyers and a judge. The commission selects the three best candidates and forwards their names to the governor, who chooses one candidate to fill the position. After their first year on the bench and again at the end of each term, non-partisan judges must run in retention elections. In retention elections the ballot reads: “Shall Judge X be retrained?” To be retained, each merit-selected judge must receive a simple majority.
The Missouri Bar is a statewide organization that is dedicated to improving the legal profession, the law and the administration of justice for all Missourians. Created in 1944 by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri, it serves all 30,000 of Missouri’s practicing attorneys. To achieve its mission, The Missouri Bar provides a wide range of services and resources to its members, as well as the media, educators and the citizens of Missouri. To learn more about The Missouri Bar, visit www.mobar.org.