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Judicial Performance Review

Who Judges the Judges? You Do!

Frequently Asked Questions

How did the judges on the retention ballot become judges?
How do voters evaluate the judges?
How does the Commission conduct performance reviews of judges?
Who receives the surveys?
How are survey comments used?
What are the performance standards for judges?
What information does the Commission provide to voters?
How can citizens participate in selecting and reviewing judges?
What is "merit selection" of judges?
What are the benefits of merit selection?
How can I get more information?


HOW DID THE JUDGES ON THE RETENTION BALLOT BECOME JUDGES?

For more than 30 years Arizona has benefited from a judicial merit selection and retention process. Merit selection is a way of choosing judges that uses a nonpartisan commission to investigate and evaluate applicants for judgeships. The commission then submits the names of at least three highly qualified applicants to the Governor. The Governor appoints appellate court judges statewide and trial court judges in Maricopa and Pima counties from lists of nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission.

Public members make up the majority of every judicial nominating commission. There are three nominating commissions - one for appellate court appointments, and two local commissions on trial court appointments in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties. Each commission is composed of ten public members and five attorney members, and is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Merit selection is not a system that grants lifetime judgeships. In Arizona, after an initial two-year term of office and every few years thereafter, judges appointed under merit selection are evaluated by the voters in an uncontested retention election. Voters have the power to remove or retain judges during the retention elections.

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HOW DO VOTERS EVALUATE THE JUDGES?

In 1992 Arizona voters amended the state constitution to create a process for evaluating the performance of judges appointed through merit selection. The constitution requires that the performance evaluation process include input from the public and that judicial performance reports be given to the voters before the state's general election.

The Commission on Judicial Performance Review ("JPR") was created to conduct the periodic performance reviews of appointed judges required by the constitution. The public has the key role in the performance review process. Jurors, witnesses, litigants, people who represent themselves in court, attorneys and court staff who have observed the judge at work are surveyed about the judge's performance. The JPR Commission sets standards for judicial performance and works under procedures adopted by the Supreme Court. Like the judicial nominating commissions, public members form the majority of the JPR Commission. The Commission is composed of 18 members of the public, six attorneys and six judges.

The JPR Commission uses the public input to decide whether each judge subject to retention election "Meets" or "Does Not Meet" judicial performance standards. The Commission reports its decision and the information collected from the surveys in the Secretary of State Voter Information Pamphlet and on this website. Voters can use the JPR Commission's findings and data reports to decide how they will vote on each judge on the retention ballot.

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HOW ARE REVIEWS CONDUCTED?

Judicial performance reviews are conducted twice during a judge's term - once at midterm and once at the end of the term just before the general election. The review is a two-part process: (1) Data Collection and Reporting, and (2) Self-Evaluation and Improvement:

Data Collection and Reporting:  Survey forms are distributed to people who have contact with the judges during a prescribed period of time. Survey recipients include attorneys, jurors, litigants, witnesses, people who represent themselves in court, court staff, other judges, and parties who have contact with presiding judges. The Commission also holds public hearings every election year and accepts written comments from the public at any time.

Self-Evaluation and Improvement:  Judges complete self-evaluations to rate their own performance. The categories on the self-evaluation form are identical to the categories on the various survey forms to give the judge the opportunity to compare their perspective of their performance with the survey responses. Each judge is then assigned to a Conference Team composed of one public volunteer, one attorney volunteer, and one judge volunteer. The Conference Team meets with the judge to review the Data Report, survey comments and public comments, and helps the judge set performance goals. The Conference Team reports its work with a judge in a Conference Team Report. The report is confidential and is not distributed to the Commission for use in its decisions. A copy of the Conference Team report, with identifying information removed, is used by the Judicial College of Arizona to assist in developing more effective judicial education programs.

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WHO RECEIVES THE SURVEYS?

To maintain the integrity of the performance review process and ensure confidentiality, the Commission contracts with an independent data center to collect survey responses and compile the data. Respondents mail completed surveys directly to the data center. Survey forms are never collected by court staff or JPR Commission staff. Only data from surveys returned directly to the data center is used.

The data center assigns each judge a code number. All survey responses are entered into a database under the code number. When the survey period ends, a compiled data report is generated for each code number.

When reviewing data reports and public input to make its decision about whether a judge has met judicial performance standards, the Commission works only with code numbers, not the names of the judges. This system is intended to reduce potential bias on the part of Commission members when voting on whether a judge "Meets" or "Does Not Meet" judicial performance standards.

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HOW ARE SURVEY COMMENTS USED?

Confidential comments on survey forms are retyped at the data center to omit names or other identifying information. The retyped comments are grouped and reported by respondent type in a separate document. Neither the JPR Commission nor the public has access to the survey comments. They are used only to assist in preparing the judge's self-improvement plan.

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WHAT ARE THE PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR JUDGES?

  • administer justice fairly, ethically, uniformly, promptly and efficiently;
  • be free from personal bias when making decisions and decide cases based on the proper application of law;
  • issue prompt rulings that can be understood and make decisions that demonstrate competent legal analysis;
  • act with dignity, courtesy and patience; and
  • effectively manage their courtrooms and the administrative responsibilities of their office.

To decide whether a judge or justice "Meets" or "Does Not Meet" judicial performance standards, Commission members compare the survey data of a judge or justice against two threshold standards. For each category of judicial performance, judges are rated and scored as "Superior" 4 points, "Very Good" 3 points, "Satisfactory" 2 points, "Poor" 1 point, and "Unacceptable" 0 points. First, if a judge or justice has an average score of 2.0 or less for any category from any group of respondents, the judge does not meet the threshold standard. Second, if 25 percent or more of any group of respondents rate the judge or justice as "unacceptable" or "poor" in any category, the threshold standard has not been met. The categories of legal ability, integrity, communication skills, judicial temperament, administrative performance and administrative skills are subject to the threshold standard settlement activities is not because it is very difficult to evaluate.

For any judge or justice who does not meet the standard, or even if the standard is met, any Commissioner may ask the Commission Chair to write a letter asking the judge to respond in confidence, by letter or in person, regarding questions about scores, public comments, letters, or other questions. All information, including the letter to the judge and the response from the judge, is coded by judge number to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the process. The only instance in which a judge's identity is revealed before the Commission vote is if a judge appears in person to address the Commission.

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WHAT INFORMATION DOES THE COMMISSION PROVIDE TO VOTERS?

Data Reports:  In April of each election year the compiled Data Reports (including the retyped confidential comments), together with any public comments, are distributed to the judge, his or her presiding judge or chief judge, the Chief Justice, and the Conference Team, for all judges undergoing review.

Encoded data reports (excluding the confidential comments), together with any public comments encoded by judge number, are distributed to the JPR Commission members for those judges who are undergoing retention reviews.

Written Notice:  The Commission sends written notice to any judge who has a score in any category of judicial standard that falls below the Threshold Standards adopted by the JPR Commission. The judge may respond in writing or by personally appearing before the JPR Commission before the Public Vote Meeting.

Public Vote Meeting:  In July of each election year the Commission votes in a public meeting on whether a judge who is standing for retention "Meets" or "Does Not Meet" judicial performance standards. The vote is recorded as the "finding" of the Commission.

Report of the Commission:  After the Public Vote Meeting, the Commission makes its findings available to the public in the Secretary of State Voter Information Pamphlet and on the Commission's website.

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HOW CAN CITIZENS PARTICIPATE IN SELECTING AND REVIEWING JUDGES?

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WHAT IS "MERIT SELECTION" OF JUDGES?

Merit selection is a way of choosing judges through a non-partisan commission of lawyers and non lawyers that investigates and evaluates applicants. The commission submits the names of the most highly qualified applicants to the Governor, who makes the final selection. Two-thirds of the states and the District of Columbia use some form of merit selection to choose their judges.

Unlike the federal system, merit selection in Arizona is not a system that grants lifetime judgeships. Once Arizona judges are appointed, they must periodically stand for retention election, when voters decide whether to keep or remove them. Performance review is a way of evaluating the judges who seek to remain on the bench. A commission reviews the judges' job performances to determine if they are meeting judicial performance standards. The public uses the information provided from the performance reviews at the retention election to decide if the judges should remain in office. While a number of states use some form of performance review to evaluate their judges, Arizona also requires its judges to undergo a self-evaluation process.

Arizona voters approved merit selection in 1974. At that time, Arizonans voted to discontinue the popular election of appellate judges, Supreme Court justices, and trial court judges in the most populous counties. Three judicial nominating commissions were created to screen judicial candidates for nomination to the Governor for appointment (currently the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, and the Maricopa and Pima County Commissions on Trial Court Appointments).

A constitutional amendment passed by Arizona voters in 1992 increased the number of non lawyer members on the nominating commissions, created the Commission on Judicial Performance Review to give the public information on the performance of judges, and opened all aspects of the process to the public, The amendment broadened public participation in selecting and reviewing judges.

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WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MERIT SELECTION?

-REPLACES POLITICS WITH PROFESSIONALISM-
The merit selection process promotes judicial impartiality and integrity because judges are not forced to solicit campaign contributions from, among others, attorneys who practice before them and people who might someday appear before them in court.

In other states, judicial candidates have been forced to spend thousands, sometimes millions of dollars, to run an election campaign in heavily populated areas.

-PROMOTES PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY-
Retention elections held under merit selection systems are an effective and appropriate means of holding judges accountable to the people. In addition to being subject to removal and other sanctions available for misbehavior by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, all merit system judges are regularly subject to removal from office by popular vote. By contrast, elected judges in other states can be removed by popular vote only if they are opposed in the general election. Since judges are frequently unopposed, the people often have less "control" over elected judges. Retention elections also allow the general public, bar associations and the media to focus on problems with a particular judge's performance, rather than on campaign rhetoric and hyperbole often heard in contested election campaigns. The Judicial Performance Review Commission assesses whether or not judges meet judicial performance standards through the collection of data and reports its findings to voters in the Secretary of State's Voter Information Pamphlet. The voters decide whether to retain the judges in office.

- PRODUCES A HIGHLY-QUALIFIED JUDICIARY-
Merit selection judges are chosen from a large pool of applicants on the basis of their qualifications rather than on political signs and slogans. Qualified attorneys are often unwilling to risk their practices on the expensive effort that is required for election to office. Candidates who are unable to raise sufficient campaign contributions have less likelihood of winning office - no matter their qualifications. This results in a reduced field from which qualified candidates can be selected. Merit selection removes these barriers and also prevents qualified applicants from being screened out by political parties because of their lack of political credentials. Furthermore, it has the advantage of assuring that only qualified and competent applicants reach the bench.

-FOSTERS IMPARTIALITY-
Sometimes judges are required to make unpopular decisions in order to uphold the law. It is the job of the courts to make sure that the limits of power placed on each branch of government are observed. Judges who must depend on winning re-election to keep their jobs may be unable to remain impartial as they could be penalized by the voters for making one or two unpopular decisions.

-ENCOURAGES DIVERSITY ON THE BENCH-
An increased number of minorities and women have been appointed to the bench because merit selection encourages a larger pool of qualified candidates.

-INCORPORATES REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY-
Merit selection compensates for limited voter knowledge about, or interest in, even contested judicial elections. Under merit selection, a nominating commission, rather than the Governor alone, makes the initial determination of the applicants' qualifications. The majority of the commission members are non lawyers appointed by the Governor with the approval of the Senate.

-PROVIDES CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT OF THE JUDICIARY-
Arizona's retention process includes a second important component, self evaluation. Midway through a judge's term in office, and again before a retention election, a judge meets with a team composed of one public volunteer, one attorney, and one judge appointed to assist the judge in setting performance goals. This makes self-evaluation and continuous improvement an integral component of the judiciary.

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HOW CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?

Contact us at:

Commission on Judicial Performance Review
1501 West Washington, Suite 221
Phoenix, Arizona 85007-3231
Telephone: (602) 452-3098
Fax: (602) 452-3652
E-mail: jpr@courts.az.gov
Website: http://www.azjudges.info

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