Bar News - August 20, 2014
Court News: Court Releases Annual Judicial Evaluation Report
By: Kristen Senz
The 2013 judicial performance evaluation report, released June 30 and available on the court’s website, details the recent activities of the NH Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) Advisory Committee.
Established following the 2012 amendments to the JPE statute, the committee has been meeting publicly to discuss ways to improve and enhance the state’s judicial evaluation process. Building on a mentor program and courtroom observation, the committee continues to explore an expanded “portfolio approach” to conducting judicial evaluations.
The existing evaluation surveys ask respondents to rank judges on a scale of 1 (unsatisfactory) to 5 (excellent) in seven categories: overall performance, temperament and demeanor, judicial management skills, legal knowledge, attentiveness, bias and objectivity, and degree of preparedness.
No superior court judges were evaluated in 2013, so this year’s results focus on the 16 circuit court judges, including one marital master, who were evaluated. A total of 492 surveys were completed for 15 judges, an average of 32 per judge. The mean overall score for the judges was 4.0, down from 4.2 in 2013, when nine circuit court judges were evaluated.
The average scores in all seven areas also decreased slightly from 2012. The 2013 scores ranged from 3.9 to 4.1. In 2012, the average scores ranged from 4.1 to 4.3.
The marital master who was evaluated, based on 32 completed surveys, received an overall score of 3.4, with scores in each of the seven categories ranging from 3.1 (attentiveness) to 3.9 (legal knowledge).
The JPE committee recently finished updating the judicial evaluation survey questions, to make sure the questions elicited useful information and were not duplicative. The new surveys will be used for 2014 evaluations.
Under the current JPE program, all trial court judges and marital masters are evaluated at least once every three years. Administrative judges and Supreme Court justices, as well as six superior court judges, 15 circuit court judges and two marital masters, are scheduled for evaluation this year, with the results to be reported in 2015.
An amendment to the judicial performance evaluation statute that took effect in April means the results of individual judicial performance evaluations will not be made public.
Changes to RSA 490:32, which governs judicial performance evaluations, that went into effect in July 2012 required a summary of results “for each judge evaluated,” a phrase that was interpreted to mean that the results of each judge’s evaluation, by name, would be made public in the annual JPE report. Senate Bill 249, which the governor signed this past spring, removed that language from the statute.
NH Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau said the JPE committee, with the help of its legislative members, drafted the legislation after determining that the amendment was necessary to maintain the balance between transparency and judicial independence.