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As public interest in judges’ professional performance grows, states’ use of judicial performance evaluations has been on the rise. States are increasingly institutionalizing the evaluation process, passing statutes requiring the formation of a judicial evaluation commission. Kansas is the most recent to launch an official judicial performance evaluation program. A state commission was established in 2006. It will send out its first questionnaires to evaluators this August for judges on the 2008 ballot. In March of this year, a Minnesota commission chaired by former governor Al Quie, released its report on ways to preserve an impartial judiciary. Known as the “Quie Commission,” the group recommends the adoption of a comprehensive performance evaluation. The proposed commission would comprise 30 members, the majority of whom are not lawyers, and would issue a data report detailing whether a judge meets established performance criteria. In his recent “State of the Judiciary Address” in January, Missouri Chief Justice Michael A. Wolff called for an attempt to “remedy the lack of information about judges” by looking at judicial evaluation systems in other states. Wolff’s plan would enlist the help of the Missouri bar to create an independent, nonpartisan program. Florida also explored the possibility of implementing a formal judicial evaluation system but its commission recommended against doing so in June. Performance-evaluation programs measure criteria such as the professionalism of judges, how well they manage caseloads and the respect with which they treat people in the courtroom. The Kansas commission plans to survey a variety of people who interact with the judges, including attorneys, jurors, appellate judges and members of the court staff. The state will issue a voter guide to the public, including a recommendation on whether to retain judges in the upcoming election, said Malia Reddick, a member of the Kansas commission and director of research and programs at the American Judicature Society. The AJS and other legal reform groups are hailing performance evaluations as a way to hold judges accountable while respecting their independence. “It’s the right way to provide judicial accountability,” said Reddick, adding that initiatives such as “J.A.I.L. 4 Judges” in South Dakota, or Judicial Accountability Initiative Law, are the wrong direction. J.A.I.L. 4 Judges was a failed constitutional amendment on the ballot in South Dakota last year that would have curtailed judicial immunity and allowed judges to be prosecuted for their rulings. The group that sponsored the amendment is seeking to get it passed in other states. The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), based at the University of Denver, published a report in 2006 called “Shared Expectations: Judicial Accountability in Context,” which recommended performance-evaluation programs as a responsible way to hold judges accountable. According to the report, 19 states now have systems, including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee and Utah. “Accountability for the judiciary is a hot topic,” said Rebecca Kourlis, executive director of the IAALS and a co-author of the report, “but the term ‘accountable’ is being held hostage by people who have political agendas.”

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