A group of 18 reports from the recently revived Judicial Performance Evaluation program was released Dec. 3 in advance of a series of judicial interviews before state legislators.
The reports include survey responses from lawyers who were asked to rate judges in 23 categories such as “Dignity and courtesy displayed in the courtroom” and “Knowledge of the law.”
Some of the reports reflect glowing reviews from lawyers and others who interact with the judges. Others show occasional high numbers in the “Needs Improvement” rating.
The JPE program has a two-fold purpose. It serves as a self-improvement resource for judges, with facilitators available to help interpret the results. That aspect of the program is under the control of the Supreme Court of Virginia and is confidential.
The other purpose of the JPE program is to assist General Assembly members in the reelection of judges. Legislators have sought a means to weigh the effectiveness of judges beyond the often superficial questioning that takes place in annual judicial interviews.
In the first experiment with the JPE program, from 2006 to 2009, reports provided to the Assembly were deemed confidential by the court, a view that some legislators resisted.
Legislation reinstating the program this year provided that the reports to the Assembly are considered public records, open to inspection.
Judicial interviews of 32 judges up for reelection by the Assembly are scheduled the afternoon of Dec. 12.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee also is scheduled to interview additional candidates for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals that morning. See list of candidates
Not every judge up for reelection has a JPE report. The law enacting the program calls for reports for only those judges who have had at least one interim evaluation conducted during their terms.
The lawyer surveys now are done electronically. Previously, lawyers received and returned paper survey forms by mail.
For all judges, surveys were submitted by attorneys who appeared before the judge within a specified time period: 12 months for district level judges, three years for circuit judges.
The survey asked for ratings on performance factors drawn from the state Canons of Judicial Conduct, according to explanatory notes on the reports.
Lawyers were not the only ones questioned about judges’ performance. For juvenile and domestic relations judges, staffers from local Social Services offices and the Department of Juvenile Justice completed survey forms with 18 of the performance factors.
Jurors filled out surveys for circuit judges with 13 of the performance criteria.
The results of all the surveyed groups were combined in the reports.
Reports were released for the following judges: