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How Judicial Evaluations Benefit the Courts and the Public

By John Murph

November 12, 2019

Every year the D.C. Bar Judicial Evaluation Committee (JEC) conducts a survey on the performance of selected judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals and D.C. Superior Court to help improve the administration of justice in the District of Columbia. Input from D.C. Bar members helps the chief judges of the D.C. Courts address concerns about a judge’s conduct, highlights best practices and conduct that should be commended, and allows the evaluated judges themselves to receive vital feedback.

This year’s survey, which closes on January 10, 2020, will evaluate 26 judges. Bar members who had a case pending before one or more of the judges during the 24-month evaluation period (July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019), are eligible to participate. The survey is completely anonymous and conducted online only.

Results of the survey also are presented to the D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, an independent agency that oversees the conduct of D.C. Courts judges and manages the judicial reappointment process.

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Commission chair Jeannine Sanford says the survey takes only a few minutes to complete and serves as an important mechanism in ensuring that judges are held to high standards of conduct to protect the public and to preserve the integrity of the judiciary. “It’s a pretty quick process,” Sanford says.

However, over the years the challenge for the D.C. Bar and the commission has been how to increase attorney participation in the survey.

“A major concern that we’ve heard is that lawyers are worried about the survey not being fully anonymous. I want to assure potential participants that the survey is absolutely anonymous,” Sanford says.

The D.C. Bar has partnered with Research USA, an independent research organization administering the survey, to ensure Bar members’ responses are kept confidential. Research USA provides the JEC with compiled reports without attribution. The JEC, chaired by Christopher A. Glaser, further scrubs information that may identify the survey respondent or parties in his or her case.

Another factor is the nature of surveys itself. “Survey participation rates aren’t fabulous as a general rule. But [participation] is a real opportunity, and we want to get the word out,” says Sanford. “If we get better participation rates, we feel like the survey results are more meaningful.”

“With a low participation rate, it’s hard for the judges — who are probably pretty interested in assuring that they are being as effective, efficient, fair, and respectful to the litigants and public as they can be — to get any insights from the survey,” she adds.

Low survey participation also means the commission doesn’t have a lot to work with in terms of how judges are being perceived by lawyers and the community. “But if you get a higher participation rate, you get something more reliable. We know that the judges really read the surveys and they take them seriously,” she says.

According to Sanford, the annual evaluations, especially if there’s enough feedback, push the judges to do their work better. “That inherently benefits the public,” she says.

After the survey closes, the JEC sends the results to the individual judges evaluated, the chief judges of each court, and the commission. “The survey is just one mechanism by which judges can check on how they are doing,” Sanford says, adding that D.C. Courts judges are “by and large really a stellar bunch.”

D.C. Bar members eligible to take the survey should have already received email invitations and postcards. If you did not receive an invitation and are eligible to participate, you can request a link to the survey directly from Research USA at [email protected].