Judicial Performance Evaluation
Since opening its doors in 2006, IAALS has been at the forefront of efforts to improve and expand programs for evaluating the performance of state and federal judges. We have earned a reputation as the “go to” group for research, recommendations, and practical assistance in the JPE field.
We have accomplished this by serving, in a number of contexts, as a convener of JPE program administrators, judges, lawmakers, and scholars who are committed to promoting and ensuring effective judicial performance evaluation in states around the country.
IAALS’ JPE Working Group provides an essential forum for this convening. Founded in 2007 with JPE program administrators and scholars from seven states, the group now benefits from the participation of representatives of 15 states.
IAALS has also convened two national conferences on the topic of judicial performance evaluation. Our first conference in 2008 focused on the development, structure, and improvement of JPE programs across the nation, and in 2011, our second national conference focused on performance evaluation for appellate judges.
Our JPE Working Group and our national JPE conferences, in addition to our ongoing research and information gathering in this area, position us well to serve as an adviser to states that are considering the adoption of robust JPE programs.
Click here for more information about judicial performance evaluation and the states that use it.
IAALS formerly housed this work under its Quality Judges Initiative until 2018.
IAALS administers a Working Group of JPE program administrators and scholars around the country. The Working Group facilitates sharing of ideas and information, as well as identification of problem areas and potential solutions.
IAALS’ JPE Working Group provides the following tools to its participants:
- Listserv: IAALS coordinates a listserv to enable sharing of information and resources among Working Group participants.
- Expert assistance: IAALS periodically identifies consultants to assist Working Group members in areas that require special expertise. For example, in advance of the 2014 judicial retention elections, we provided a webinar on using social media and other inexpensive tools to share JPE results.
- Online repository of JPE resources: IAALS offers Working Group participants access to an online trove of JPE resources, including questionnaires, rules of procedure, and relevant research.
- Quarterly calls: IAALS convenes quarterly calls of Working Group participants to discuss recent developments in the states, share new research, and address questions and concerns.
Representatives of 18 states participate in the Working Group.
Working Group Participants
David A. Bohm, Assistant Executive Director
North Carolina Bar Association
Being a voluntary program that is run by a voluntary bar association, I have found this resource invaluable because I am able to learn in one setting what occurs in a multitude of states. Such a resource is otherwise unavailable to programs like ours and we appreciate being able to participate!
Dale C. Doerhoff, Chair and State Coordinator
Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees
The JPE Working Group has been and continues to be an invaluable resource for the Missouri JPE program. As challenges and new issues have arisen, we have shared those with the working group and have learned of solutions by others that we adopted, without having to reinvent the wheel.
Mona Hochberg, Judicial Performance Evaluation Coordinator
When I was hired to design a JPE program for Massachusetts in 2000, it was a great deal of legwork to discover which states had programs and who I should call for information. Any state now starting a program will have it so much easier thanks to IAALS and the working group -- a one stop service for nation-wide information. As Massachusetts worked to revise our program recently, it was extremely helpful to be able to query the working group along the way. I look forward to the conference calls as communicating with my counterparts helps me feel less isolated and I respect the experience and knowledge of everyone on the calls.
Nancy Norelli, Immediate Past Chair
Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee
North Carolina Bar Association
A very practical, hands on example of the value of the Working Group is that it introduced me to Colorado's fabulous Public Service Announcement and with the help of IAALS we quickly received permission to tape a similar one for use in North Carolina. Later, with a few edits, we were able to pass our PSA along to the Utah.
With all the contacts and resources from around the country now at my fingertips, the Working Group has made a huge difference in the advancement of our JPE project in NC.
Michael Oki, Research Statistician
Hawaii State Judiciary
The members of the JPE Working Group have shown us responsiveness, respectfulness, and humbleness in resolving our issues. We are confident that our judicial evaluation program is sound because we are able to compare procedures and share solutions.
Joanne Slotnik, Executive Director
Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
The working group is helpful in that it keeps me abreast of what else is going on in the country relative to JPE. It also gives me contact info with others who are invested in this work and with whom I can discuss issues of mutual interest at times other than the conference call.
IAALS 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
IAALS serves as an ongoing resource to lawmakers, fair courts advocates, and thought leaders interested in judicial selection issues, and as a conduit of information and research-based recommendations for judicial performance evaluation programs around the country.
State Efforts with IAALS Involvement
California: Advised Chief Justice Ronald George’s Commission for Impartial Courts on the creation of a judicial performance evaluation program. Read our article, A Fresh Look at Judicial Performance Evaluation in California.
Colorado: Commissioned and published a report on a survey of Colorado's appellate and trial judges that gauged their opinions on the effectiveness of the state's JPE process. Read our report, The Bench Speaks on Judicial Performance Evaluation: A Survey of Colorado Judges.
Minnesota: Serving as an ongoing resource to the Coalition for Impartial Justice regarding proposed JPE legislation.
Nevada: Provided substantive and logistical support to Nevadans for Qualified Judges, the group that backed the passage of Question 1. Question 1 would have moved Nevada from nonpartisan judicial elections to the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan.
New Hampshire: Consulted with the supreme court as it updated and expanded its JPE program based on our reports and recommendations.
New Jersey: Provided resources and testimony to the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Task Force on Judicial Independence.
New York: Published an article on the application of JPE principles and procedures to judicial screening and selection New York. Read our article, A Strategy for Judicial Performance Evaluation in New York.
North Carolina: Advised and assisted the North Carolina Bar Association in developing a JPE program for both incumbent judges and judicial challengers.
Oklahoma: Consulting with a committee of the Oklahoma State Bar Association on the development of a JPE program for appellate judges.
Oregon: Advising the Oregon Fair Courts Network on developing a legislative proposal for judicial performance evaluation.
Utah: Provided testimony during the 2008 effort to strengthen their JPE legislation, based largely on our Blueprint for Judicial Performance Evaluation.
When Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, she committed herself to two things she cares passionately about: judicial independence and civics education. She began working on judicial independence at Georgetown Law School through the “Sandra Day O’Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary,” a series of conferences co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute in 2006 through 2009.
Through these conferences, various themes and conclusions emerged. With respect to independence of the judiciary, the conference proceedings reflected that fairness and impartiality may be at risk in state court systems, particularly with reference to the selection methods for those state court judges. A commission-based appointment and retention election system is far preferable to contested elections, because it protects fair and impartial courts, keeps politics out of the process, and lets voters hold judges accountable for their performance on the bench.
As her project at Georgetown Law School neared conclusion in 2010, Justice O’Connor wanted to take the next step and begin fostering change directly at the state level. On December 8, 2009, she launched the Quality Judges Initiative at IAALS. We are honored that Justice O’Connor chose to partner with us to continue her work on judicial selection through IAALS.
The O'Connor Advisory Committee concluded its work together in 2020.