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Grading the Appellate Bench
New Jersey Law Journal
We present in these pages the results of the Law Journal 's first-ever survey of New Jersey lawyers about the quality of judging in the Superior Court's Appellate Division — the court of last recourse for most state litigants.
In years past, we have published profiles of appellate judges that were based principally on samplings of their signed, published opinions, with almost no input from the lawyers in those cases. The articles told much more about the cases than about the judges.
This time, we asked practitioners to assess the comparative strengths and weaknesses of appellate judges, their demeanor and their potential biases, all of which are highly relevant to advocacy before them.
The survey's evaluative categories resemble, but to some degree diverge from, those in our surveys of lawyers about the trial court bench. Legal knowledge, familiarity with the case, speed in decision-making and lack of bias are among the benchmarks. But there are also questions about writing ability, fairness and thoroughness in opinions and the balancing of attention to precedent with inclination to advance the law.
The survey is intended as a forum in which to pool the practicing bar's collective knowledge about the appellate bench. Lawyers share stories about judges all the time, but informally, not in any quantifiable way that can be readily referenced and distributed. This survey attempts to supply that medium.
Grades are meant to assess individual strengths and weakness, but they necessarily invite comparisons, which unavoidably produce bests and worsts. We hope that the resultant ranking will be looked upon constructively by judges as well as lawyers.
As with our past judicial surveys, this one is a private enterprise, conducted without the cooperation or endorsement of the judiciary.
Comments and questions about the survey are welcome.