Evaluating Appellate Judges

Quality Judges has taken a closer look at how best to evaluate appellate judges for two essential reasons. First, appellate JPE programs have largely been patterned after programs for trial judges, though these judges’ role and responsibilities differ significantly. Perhaps the most significant difference between appellate and trial judges is their work product; while trial judges hold conferences and make rulings throughout the course of a trial, an appellate judge’s primary output is the written opinion. These differences must be taken into account in the “who, what, and why” of JPE programs for each type of judge.

Second, in today’s political climate, appellate judges are increasingly coming under fire for unpopular rulings in a single case or on a specific hot-button issue, and these attacks often become the focus of anti-retention or reelection campaigns. In order to make responsible decisions at the ballot box, voters need information about the job performance of judges that does not turn on political or outcome considerations. Broad-based, objective appellate JPE programs can provide this information.

Over a two-year period that included a national conference, an expert task force, focus groups with appellate judges and attorneys, and cognitive interviews with potential survey respondents, IAALS developed a model process for evaluating appellate judges that includes the following:

  • Guidelines and templates for reviewing a judge’s written opinions for legal analysis and reasoning, clarity, and fairness
  • Surveys about appellate judges for attorneys who appear before them and use their opinions, trial judges who apply their rulings, and court staff who work closely with them
  • A self-evaluation tool that allows judges to assess their own strengths, weaknesses, and overall performance
Recognizing that appellate Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) programs have largely been patterned after programs for trial judges, IAALS is...
IAALS has worked in the area of judicial performance evaluation (JPE) from its inception in January 2006. In August 2008, IAALS convened its first...
In August of 2011, IAALS convened a national conference on appellate judicial performance evaluation (JPE)—Evaluating Appellate Judges: Preserving...