Judicial Performance Evaluation Process
On February 29, 2008, the Supreme Court of Missouri issued an order making several revisions to Rule 10. Among these changes are several new sections establishing a mechanism and procedure for evaluation of judges seeking retention under the Non-Partisan Court Plan.
Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees
Rule 10.50 provides for the creation of an “Appellate Judicial Evaluation Committee” to evaluate the performance of Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges. In addition, it mandates a “Circuit Judicial Evaluation Committee” in each of the five trial circuits participating in the Non-Partisan Court Plan. This includes:
- Platte County (6th Judicial Circuit)
- Clay County (7th Judicial Circuit)
- Jackson County (16th Judicial Circuit)
- St. Louis County (21st Judicial Circuit)
- City of St. Louis (22nd Judicial Circuit)
- Greene County (31st Judicial Circuit)
Membership of Committees
Rule 10.51(a) provides that the Appellate Judicial Evaluation Committee shall consist 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 of the court of appeals.
Section (b) of that same rule requires each Circuit Judicial Evaluation Committee to consist of six members of The Missouri Bar who reside in the circuit and six citizens, not members of the bar, who reside in the circuit.
The rule also requires that no member of any committee shall hold any public office or hold any official position in a political party.
Appointment of Committee Members
Members of all commissions shall be appointed by the Board of Governors of The Missouri Bar upon nomination by members of the board, by local and regional bar associations, and by citizens who are not members of the bar. In acting upon those nominations, the Board is to give due consideration to non-partisan, merit factors, such as expertise, experience and knowledge. In addition, committee membership is to be reflective of the diversity of each committee’s constituencies.
Terms of Members
Each evaluation committee member, except for the initial members appointed, shall serve for six years.
Of the initial members appointed, four members of each committee shall have a term of two years, four members shall have a term of four years, and four members shall have a term of six years. All terms are to expire on December 31.
No member of any committee may succeed himself, except for members appointed to initial terms of less than six years and members appointed to serve an unexpired term. If a vacancy occurs, the vacancy shall be filled for the unexpired term.
Any committee member failing to properly perform their duties may be recommended for removal on a vote of two-thirds of the entire committee membership. That recommendation is to be communicated to the state coordinator, who will in turn forward the recommendation to the Board of Governors. Upon a majority vote of the Board that the member has filed to properly perform his or her duties, the member shall be removed and replaced by a new member.
According to Rule 10.54, the work of the committees will be supervised by a state coordinator appointed by the Board of Governors.
By majority vote of the membership, each committee shall designate one of its members as chair, and that person will retain the right to vote on all matters.
Neither the state coordinator or members of the committees shall receive compensation for their services, but they will be reimbursed for necessary expenses by The Missouri Bar, as authorized by the Board of Governors.
In all cases, a majority of members is a quorum.
Rule 10.55 charges the committees with the duty to:
- Collect information on judicial performance, including survey responses from lawyers and jurors, published opinions, and other sources of relevant information.
- Evaluate judicial performance based on performance standards, to include whether the judge is: deciding cases based on established facts and applicable law; explaining decisions clearly; exhibiting proper courtroom demeanor; and deciding cases promptly.
- Recommend improvements in judicial performance.
- Recommend improvements in judicial education.
- Recommend whether or not a judge should be retained and provide reasons for the retention recommendation.
- Communicate preliminary evaluations and recommendations to the judge and provide a process for the judge to appeal to the full committee before the evaluations and recommendations are made public.
- Release summary evaluations and recommendations for publication to the public, to be disseminated on or before September 1 of an election year by The Missouri Bar and its affiliates in a manner designed to maximize the use of the information by the public.
The Board of Governors may authorize a committee or committees to also seek information on judicial performance from other categories of participants in the judicial process who may have personal knowledge of judicial performance.
In addition, a judge may request an additional or supplemental evaluation and recommendation at any time. That request is to be granted in an expeditious manner.
The Evaluation Process
Typically, committees meet as a whole and assign preliminary evaluations of specific judges to specific committee members. Although not required, most committees have used two-person teams – each composed of one lawyer and one non-lawyers – to prepare an initial analysis of a specific judge or judges. These teams consider the following factors:
- The results of a survey of lawyers regarding the skills of the judge(s);
- The result of a survey of jurors (where applicable) who served on juries before the judge(s);
- Written opinions/decisions provided by the judges;
- Biographical information, provided by the judges, listing their administrative, professional, civic and charitable accomplishments;
- Information regarding any disciplinary actions taken against the judge(s) by the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline of Judges.
Once each two-person team has completed its analysis and initial recommendation, the information is shared with the entire committee. Although the two-person team is responsible for the initial analysis, the ultimate recommendation regarding retention is made by the committee as a whole. Throughout the evaluation process, each member of the committee has access the complete information about every judge being evaluated.
Throughout this process, committee members may communicate through in-person gatherings, by telephone conference call, or by e-mail correspondence.
The Judicial Appeal Process
Following completion of the evaluations, a copy of each judge’s individual evaluation is sent to that judge for review. Each judge is given 10 days in which to review the evaluation and, if the judge so chooses, challenge the committee’s findings. If a judge wishes to appeal the evaluation, he or she may do so by providing the committee with written materials outlining the objection and providing any additional information that the committee should consider.
Upon receipt of a formal appeal, the committee is to gather once again to consider the appeal. If, after review, the committee wishes to revise its original evaluation, it may do so. Otherwise, the original evaluation will be distributed to the public.
Distribution of Evaluation Results
Per Supreme Court mandate, the results of the Judicial Performance Evaluation are distributed on or before September 1 of each election year. News conferences are scheduled around the state to distribute the results directly to the news media. In addition, press releases with an online link to the results are sent to media representatives.
In addition, The Missouri Bar prints and distributes more than 150,000 copies of a brochure, “Judging the Judges,” which contains each committee’s recommendations and directs readers to The Missouri Bar’s website (www.mobar.org) for the complete evaluations.
Indeed, the state bar website remains the optimum means by which citizens can view the committees’ recommendations. Visitors need only indicate their locale, at which point they will be provided with a list of those judges who will be on the November election ballot in that locale. Upon clicking a particular judge’s name, visitors to the website will see the complete evaluation for that judge, along with a link to the results of the lawyer survey, the juror survey (where applicable), and the written opinions/decisions considered by the evaluation committee.