Methods of Judicial Selection
Retention Evaluation Programs
Alabama does not evaluate the performance of judges who are up for reelection.
Since 1976, the Alaska Judicial Council has evaluated the performance of judges standing for retention and provided evaluation information and recommendations to voters. The judicial council is composed of three nonlawyer members appointed by the governor and confirmed by a majority of the legislature in joint session, three lawyer members appointed by the board of governors of the Alaska Bar Association, and the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, who serves as the ex officio chair. Evaluations are based on surveys of attorneys, peace and probation officers, social workers, court employees, and jurors, as well as investigative materials specific to each judge and public input. Click here to view 2010 evaluation materials. Click here to view the AJC bylaws regarding judicial performance evaluation.
A study of retention election outcomes by the American Judicature Society reported that Alaska voters take the judicial council's ratings into account. Data on judicial retention elections from 1976 to 1996 showed that, on average, the higher the judge's rating, the higher his or her affirmative vote percentage. Click here for the executive summary of this study.
Arizona is the only state with a constitutionally authorized judicial performance evaluation program. Proposition 109, which was approved by the voters in 1992, required the establishment of a process to review judges' performance. Judicial performance review has two purposes: to provide the public with information about judges who are standing for retention and to encourage judicial self-evaluation and improvement. Judges are evaluated pre-election and mid-term.
The commission on judicial performance review consists of no more than thirty-four members. Commission members are appointed by the supreme court and include lawyers, judges, and members of the public. No more than six members may be lawyers, and no more than six members may be judges. The commission surveys those who have come into contact with judges, including litigants, witnesses, jurors, court staff, attorneys, and other judges. A public input survey is also available. Judges are evaluated on such criteria as legal ability, integrity, judicial temperament, communication skills, and administrative performance. Based on survey information, commission members vote on whether a judge "meets" or "does not meet" judicial performance standards. Judges also complete self-evaluation surveys and meet with conference teams composed of a judge, an attorney, and a member of the public to discuss their performance review. The results of pre-election performance reviews are mailed to voters and made available at public centers such as libraries, banks, and grocery stores. Click here to view the 2010 performance evaluation results. Mid-term performance reviews are confidential. Click here to view the commission's rules of procedure.
For more information about Arizona's judicial performance evaluation program, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States and Judicial Retention Evaluation Programs in Four States.
In 1988, the general assembly established judicial performance commissions throughout the state to provide voters with information about the performance of judges seeking retention. There is a state commission on judicial performance that evaluates appellate court judges standing for retention, and there are commissions in each judicial district that evaluate district and county court judges. Each commission is composed of ten members, including four lawyers and six nonlawyers. The speaker of the house and the president of the senate each appoint one lawyer member and one nonlawyer member; the governor and the chief justice of the supreme court each appoint one lawyer member and two nonlawyer members. Click here to view commission rules.
Evaluations of district and county court judges are based on questionnaires completed by those who have come into contact with the judge, including attorneys, litigants, jurors, crime victims, law enforcement personnel, social services caseworkers, probation officers, and court personnel. Trial judge evaluations also incorporate relevant docket and sentencing statistics, an interview with the judge, a self-evaluation completed by the judge, and information from other appropriate sources. Evaluations of appellate judges are based on interviews with the state commission on judicial performance and surveys of attorneys and trial court judges. Each evaluation includes a narrative profile with a "Retain," "Do Not Retain," or "No Opinion" recommendation. Click here for the 2010 judicial performance reviews.
In 2008, legislation was passed calling for both midterm and retention-year evaluations of judges and creating the office of judicial performance evaluation within the judicial department. The legislation also specifies the criteria on which judges are to be evaluated and requires the inclusion of certain information in judges' written evaluations.
Also in 2008, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System conducted a survey of Colorado judges regarding their views of the state's judicial performance evaluation program.
For more information about Colorado's judicial performance evaluation program, see Judicial Retention Evaluation Programs in Four States.
The judicial selection commission evaluates incumbent judges who seek reappointment to the same court and forwards to the governor the names of those who are recommended for reappointment. The commission's regulations are available here.
District of Columbia
The judicial selection commission determines whether judges should be retained in office upon the expiration of their terms. Judges must notify the commission within six months of the expiration of their term that they plan to seek retention. The commission solicits public comment and interviews those who have had contact with the judge. The judge completes a questionnaire and is interviewed by the full commission. A judge must receive at least five favorable votes to be retained.
The commission consists of nine members, no more than four of whom may be lawyers. The governor appoints two members, only one of whom may be an attorney. The president of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives each appoint two members to the commission. The chief justice appoints one commission member, and the Hawaii State Bar Association selects two lawyer members. Commission members serve staggered six-year terms, and members are limited to one term. Click here to view the commission's rules.
Iowa does not evaluate the performance of judges who are standing for retention.
In 2006, the Kansas legislature established the commission on judicial performance. The commission consists of seven lawyer members and six nonlawyer members appointed by the Kansas Judicial Council. Beginning in 2008, the commission conducts evaluations of all Kansas judges and provides judges with the results in order to promote self-improvement. For judges who are standing for retention during the years they are evaluated, the results of the evaluation and a recommendation regarding retention are made public. Click here for the 2010 judicial performance evaluations.
Effective July 1, 2011, the Kansas legislature eliminated the funding for the Commission on Judicial Performance. Without funding, the Judicial Council temporarily discontinued the Commission's judicial evaluation program. The Council will seek to have funding restored during the 2012 Legislative Session.
Click here to view the commission's rules.
Massachusetts judges are appointed for life, to age 70.
In 2008, Missouri's supreme court amended its rules to establish a judicial performance evaluation program for judges included in the Nonpartisan Court Plan. The appellate judicial evaluation committee consists of two lawyer and two non-lawyer members from each court of appeals district, and each circuit judicial evaluation committee consists of six lawyer and six non-lawyer members who reside in that circuit. Evaluation committee members are appointed by the Missouri Bar's board of governors from nominations by board members, local and regional bar associations, and non-laywer citizens. Committee members serve six-year, staggered terms. Click here to view the amended rules.
The committees recommend whether or not judges should be retained and provide reasons for the recommendations. The committees' recommendations are based on surveys of lawyers and jurors, information on time standards, and published opinions. Click here for the 2010 evaluation results.
New Hampshire judges are appointed for life, to age 70.
One of the stated goals of New Jersey's judicial performance program is to enhance the process for reappointing judges. Attorneys evaluate judges before whom they have participated in actual cases, and appellate judges evaluate trial court judges when their rulings are appealed. Results of the evaluation are shared with the evaluated judge, the assignment judge, the supreme court, the governor, the senate judiciary committee, and the judicial evaluation commission. The program operates according to Rule 1:35A.
The supreme court appoints the members of the judicial performance committee and designates the committee chair. At least six members must be superior court judges who represent each of the divisions of the court, at least three members must be attorneys, and at least two members must be representatives of the general public. Committee members serve three-year terms and may be reappointed.
The judicial performance evaluation commission was created in 1997 to improve judicial performance and to provide voters with information about judges standing for retention. The fifteen-member commission consists of seven lawyers and eight nonlawyers who are appointed by the supreme court from nominations by the governor, chief justice of the supreme court, speaker of the house, president pro tempore, house minority leader, senate minority leader, and president of the state bar.
Judges are evaluated at the midpoint of their terms and before each retention election. Evaluations are based on a self-assessment, surveys of those who have come into contact with the judge, and a personal interview. For appellate court judges, surveys are sent to lawyers, law clerks, law professors, court staff, and other judges. Surveys for trial court judges are sent to lawyers, jurors, court staff, and resource personnel, such as law enforcement officers, probation officers, and social workers. Midterm evaluation reports are not released to the public, but evaluations conducted prior to retention elections are posted on the commission's web site, published in state newspapers, and made available at county clerk offices. Click here for the 2010 results.
Court of appeals judges seeking reappointment must reapply to the commission on judicial nomination and be considered along with other applicants.
However, independent judicial election qualifications commissions were established in 2007 to evaluate the qualifications of candidates who are seeking election to the state's trial courts.
Oklahoma does not evaluate the performance of judges who are up for retention or reelection.
Rhode Island judges are appointed for life.
South Carolina judges compete with other candidates for reelection and are screened by the judicial merit selection committee.
A judicial performance evaluation process was established in 1994 to assist the public in making informed decisions regarding retention elections for appellate judges. The judicial performance evaluation commission evaluates incumbent judges who are standing for retention and makes a recommendation either "for retention" or "for replacement." Evaluations are based on the following criteria: integrity, knowledge and understanding of the law, ability to communicate, preparation and attentiveness, service to the profession, and effectiveness in working with other judges and court personnel. In developing its recommendations, the commission relies heavily on surveys that are distributed to judges, lawyers, and other court employees, and on personal interviews with judges.
The judicial performance evaluation commission is composed of nine members. The judicial council appoints five members, including three state court judges, one lawyer, and one nonlawyer. The speakers of the senate and the house each appoint one lawyer and one nonlawyer. The appointing authorities are required to make appointments that approximate the population of the state with respect to race and gender. Members serve six-year terms, and may serve up to two terms.
Click here to view the 2010 evaluation report.
Utah's performance evaluation program was initiated in 1986 to provide the public with the necessary information to make informed decisions in judicial retention elections and to provide judges with information for self improvement. For more than 20 years, the judicial council administered the program, but in 2008, the judicial performance evaluation commission was created. The thirteen-member commission includes both lawyers and nonlawyers appointed by legislative leaders, the governor, and the supreme court.
Performance evaluations are conducted every two years. Evaluations are based on surveys of attorneys who have appeared before the judge during the previous two years. Attorneys are asked to rate judges on a variety of criteria and to indicate whether the judge should be retained. Since 1997, evaluations of district court judges have also included surveys of jurors who appeared before the judge. Jurors are asked several yes/no questions. Based on survey results, the commission determines whether judges meet performance standards. The commission sends its recommendations regarding judges standing for retention to the lieutenant governor for inclusion in the voter information pamphlet. Information gathered for judicial self improvement is not made public. Click here to view supreme court rules regarding judicial performance evaluation.
For more information about Utah's judicial performance evaluation program, see Judicial Retention Evaluation Programs in Four States.
The joint committee on judicial retention reviews the performance of judges and justices seeking retention and recommends to the general assembly whether they should continue in office. The committee is composed of four members of the house of representatives appointed by the speaker of the house and four members of the senate appointed by the committee on committees of the senate. §607 and §608 of this statute provide more information about the review process.
Virginia's judicial performance evaluation program was established by the general assembly in 2005. Evaluations were initially based solely on surveys completed by attorneys, but as of 2008, jurors and members of the department of social services and court services units also submit surveys. Evaluation reports for judges seeking reelection are provided to the chairmen of the house and senate committees for courts of justice. Reports are also provided to individual judges and a mentor or "facilitator" judge.