New format, structure bring Missouri’s judicial performance evaluation process in line with best practices

The Supreme Court of Missouri issued an order dated June 15 revising Rules 10.50 – 10.55 governing Missouri’s judicial performance evaluation (JPE) to bring the process more in line with best practices across the nation. The Court’s revisions to Rules 10.50 – 10.55 will improve the information available to voters about judges up for retention by expanding the voices of non-lawyers in the evaluation process, leaving judging the judges to the voters, and fostering consistency in the evaluations by replacing the seven current committees with one statewide committee.

The purpose of Judicial Performance Evaluations is to provide information to voters to make sure the people of Missouri have good judges who are fair, impartial and skilled. At the general election every two years, dozens of judges – from nonpartisan circuits up to the Supreme Court of Missouri who were initially selected under the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan – appear on the ballot in retention elections after their first year on the bench and at the end of each term.

Dale Doerhoff, state coordinator and chair of the Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee, describes Missouri’s judicial evaluation process as the product of decades of experience and investigation into the best judicial performance evaluation practices across the United States. He added that “while it has accomplished the goals for which it was created, it can be improved.”

The evaluation program will continue to look at surveys which are an integral part in assessing the performance of judges up for retention. The surveys look at many aspects, including whether or not a judge treats people fairly, displays impartiality, and more. Now, with the Court’s changes, the voices of litigants will be added to the voices of jurors and lawyers – all of whom have direct experience with the judges. Many voters may not have direct contact with a judge up for retention and the addition of surveys of litigants will give voters an even better look into the inner workings of a judge’s courtroom.

Unlike the previous system, which asked JPE committees to make a recommendation regarding each judge seeking retention, the statewide committee will be tasked with determining if each judge meets accepted judicial performance standards. All but one other state with JPE systems have a single statewide JPE committee helping ensure evaluation results are systematic and fair across the state. Under the new structure, Missouri will join this best practice model, replacing its seven committees with one statewide committee composed of non-lawyers, lawyers and retired judges.

Erik Bergmanis, 2015-16 president of The Missouri Bar thanked the non-lawyers and lawyers who have served on the JPE committees for the time and effort they have put into the judicial performance evaluation process, adding that the state bar and the citizens of Missouri are “indebted to them for all they have done to maintain the quality of Missouri’s judiciary.”

As part of the order, the Supreme Court of Missouri appointed members to serve on the new statewide JPE committee. Click here to see the full list of appointees to the new statewide committee.

Judicial performance evaluations began more than 65 years ago in Missouri when, in 1948, The Missouri Bar began conducting a statewide poll of lawyers about Missouri judges up for retention. Originally, this poll had only one question about each of the judges standing for retention: “Should Judge X be retained?” The survey process was improved upon over the years, leading to the Supreme Court of Missouri adopting a formal rule in 2008 to establish the modern Judicial Performance Evaluation program to help build an informed electorate when it comes to Missouri judges.

Doerhoof noted the Court’s newest changes “ensure that Missouri’s evaluation program is consistent with current best practices and will help provide even better information to Missouri voters.”

To learn more about the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan and judicial performance evaluation program, check out the rest of the website here at www.YourMissouriJudges.org.

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