The Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee has recommended that voters “do not retain” St. Louis County Judge Judy Draper. Dale Doerhoff, the Coordinator of the Committee, explains how rare that recommendation is.
“We have found over the years, since 1940, that the nonpartisan (courts) plan works very well in selecting very good judges that are qualified to do their job. Over the years, since 1940, there have only been three judges that got a ‘do not retain’ recommendation, there have been hundreds that were given a ‘do retain’ recommendation,” Doerhoff said.
Draper has been a judge in the 21st Judicial Circuit since 2004. The recommendation was made based on anonymous surveys from attorneys that tried cases in front of Draper, and members of juries from her court. The committee also reviewed one of her court decisions, and observed her in court.
One of the other two judges that was been given the “do not retain” recommendation in the past did manage to keep their job when it came to a vote.
“The second judge who was recommended not retained was two years ago, it was in St. Louis County. The vote for that judge was considerably lower than all others who were retained, but that judge squeaked through and had a retain majority, which is all it takes, is a majority. So we felt like the voters at least took into consideration the evaluations,” Doerhoff said.
The other judge to get the ‘do not retain’ recommendation did lose their job, when it came to a vote in Platte County. Voters will decide in November whether Draper, and dozens of other circuit and appellate judges, get to keep their jobs.
Visit the Missouri Bar’s website for more detailed information from the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee.
Before 1990, attorneys simply made a ‘yes or no’ recommendation on whether the judge should be retained.
“In the 1990 general election, judges were averaging less than 60% support from voters. The voters seemed to want more information. There was concern by some very, very good judges that they were on the edge of the cliff practically of being voted out simply because the voters did not have enough information about them,” Doerhoff said.
Doerhoff says that’s when the Committee program was expanded significantly, and the numerous other factors started being taken into consideration. Even since 2008 a number of changes have been made to the process, including one suggested by the judges themselves.
“The judges wanted to see a benchmark. They wanted to know if their rating was at a certain level, would that be a presumption of ‘retain’ and below that level would it be a presumption of ‘non-retain.’ So after all the committees deliberated about this and voted, we voted to use a 2.85 rating as a benchmark. On a scale of 5, 2.85 would be kind of like a middle C grade,” Doerhoff said.
He says while the system is always under review, he’s pleased with evaluation process as it is.
“We want them evaluated on their entire record. We want evaluations based upon the hundreds and thousands of cases that are decided, and not just through one ideological filter. So that’s why we do that the way we do, this is designed to focus on merit-based factors,” Doerhoff said.