A 21-member committee has reviewed the performance of Missouri judges seeking re-election in November. During a press conference Monday in Jefferson City, Chairman Dale Doerhoff says 58 of the 59 judges evaluated meet the overall standards. The one to fall below the mark is St. Louis Associate Circuit Judge Barbara Peebles.
“The primary purpose is to provide information to voters. The secondary purpose is to give judges some feedback. When a judge sees that he or she is perceived by the attorneys evaluating or by the jurors to have some deficiency in some area, the judge responds. We’ve had excellent performance improvements,” he says.
In 1948, Missouri launched its judicial performance review process. The method is continually updated based on model rules and best practices from the American Bar Association and the more than 20 judicial performance review systems nationwide.
The committee screens lawyers and jurors who could be eligible to offer feedback on judges. The panel reviews the evaluations completed by the eligible individuals and determines whether the judges comply with the standards.
Lawyers with personal knowledge of a particular case or cases are surveyed around key traits that judges need to render justice effectively and fairly, including through competency in the law and writing clear opinions. Jurors are asked about the judge’s courtroom conduct, such as whether the judge clearly explained the legal issues of the case and if the judge appeared to be free from bias. Their surveys are then converted into a numerical score.
The committee is made up of lawyers, retired judges and other citizens. Members do not know the identities of the judges they are evaluating.
“We don’t know which part of the state they’re from, gender, race, or any personal particulars,” Doerhoff says.
The committee reviewed the work of judges serving on the Missouri Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court and Associate Circuit Court.
“Just like jury verdicts in civil cases in Missouri can end up being 9-3, 10-2 or 11-1, members of our committee exercised their independent judgement based upon the information they see,” says Doerhoff. “The votes were not unanimous in, I think, about 13 evaluation votes. Some were split like 19-1, 18-2. With Judge Peebles, it fell to 8-11.”
According to a committee press release, all Missouri voters will have at least three judges appear in retention elections on their November ballot.
“We want to make sure the people of Missouri have good judges who are fair, impartial and skilled,” says Doerhoff. “The committee’s work to educate voters about the performance of our judges has led to increased voter participation in judicial retention elections since 2008 because when voters feel more informed, they are more likely to vote.”
To view the findings of each judge, click here.
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