University of Denver

Judicial Performance Evaluation: How It Works

This is the point in the process where accountability plays a role. Most Americans undergo job evaluations, and there is no reason why judges should not do the same. On the other hand, the data must be broad and deep and the inquiries must be about procedural fairness, demeanor, and knowledge—not about particular outcomes in individual cases.

Judges are evaluated near the end of their term by people who have contact with and knowledge of their performance. Diverse groups of people who use the court system are surveyed, such as attorneys, litigants, jurors, witnesses, court employees, law enforcement officials, and victims. The survey asks about the clarity and impartiality of judges’ rulings, and the way judges manage their cases and interact with others.

A judicial performance evaluation commission reviews the surveys and writes a summary of the findings, rating how well judges perform their responsibilities and whether or not judges are recommended for retention. The evaluation is then made available to the public in a timely fashion before the retention election.

We offer these better practices as our recommendations for effective judicial performance evaluation:

  • Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) programs should be created by constitution or statute, rather than by a rule or directive.
  • JPE programs should publically disseminate regular evaluations of the performance of individual judges, based on criteria generally understood to be characteristics of a good judge:
    • Command of relevant substantive law and procedural rules
    • Impartiality and freedom from bias
    • Clarity of oral and written communications
    • Judicial temperament that demonstrates appropriate respect for everyone in the courtroom
    • Administrative skills, including competent docket management
    • Appropriate public outreach
  • JPE of appellate judges should include a process for evaluating the legal reasoning and analysis, fairness, and clarity of a selection of the judge’s written opinions, without regard to the particular outcomes reached.
  • Evaluations should be completed by people who have interacted with the judges in the courtroom and in the office.
  • The entity responsible for administrating the JPE process should be viewed as independent from other entities in performing its role. It should not be affiliated with the judicial branch.
  • Like judicial nominating commissions, the members of a judicial performance evaluation commission should be selected by multiple appointing authorities and be comprised of a majority of lay members. It should reflect diversity, be politically, ideologically, and geographically balanced, and the terms of its members should be staggered.
  • As part of JPE, judges should receive regular training. In addition to basic and broad judicial education, education programs should be tailored to the extent possible to the areas in which judges have been found wanting in their respective performance evaluations.

Click here for a list of states that evaluate the performance of judges.


Components of the O'Connor Judicial Selection Plan:

Judicial Nominating Commission

How It Works | States with Nominating Commissions

Gubernatorial Appointment

How It Works | States with Gubernatorial Appointment

Judicial Performance Evaluation

How It Works | States with Performance Evaluation

Retention Election

How It Works | States with Retention Elections