Sixty-four Bristol and Plymouth county court judges received performance evaluations from 1,283 lawyers and court employees in the Supreme Judicial Court's first system-wide Judicial Performance Evaluation pilot project launched last May. A third of those who received questionnaires responded.
The overall results show that the majority of judges generally scored highly in all categories, such as maintaining control of the courtroom; treating litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys with respect; acting fairly and impartially; listening with patience and attentiveness; demonstrating knowledge of the law; and promoting public confidence in the judiciary.
"This is part of our continuing program to assist judges to attain or maintain peak job performance, in this case by receiving constructive comments from lawyers who practice before them and by court employees who work with them every day," said SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall.
The judges who were evaluated and their respective chief justices of the Trial Court will review individual results. Resources will be developed to address any issues identified by the evaluations. Under legislation governing judicial performance evaluations, G.L. c.211, § 26, and SJC Rule 1:16, information in the performance evaluations is confidential.
The SJC Committee on Judicial Performance Evaluation, headed by Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders, designed and executed the pilot program with SJC Judicial Performance Evaluation Coordinator Mona Hochberg. The evaluation process will continue with judges in other counties beginning this fall. Judges in Barnstable, Nantucket and Dukes counties, as well as statewide Land Court judges, will be surveyed next.
The committee sent questionnaires to nearly 4,500 attorneys and 1,000 court employees last spring. Judges from the District Court, the largest Trial Court, received more than 4,000 evaluations. Other judges receiving evaluations were from the Superior Court with 3,410 responses; the Probate and Family Court with 2,198; the Juvenile Court with 660, and the Housing Court with 218 responses.
"The committee was extremely pleased with both the quantity and the quality of the responses that we received, although our overall goal is to devise ways to increase the numbers of those responding even further," said Sanders. "We will also be working to determine how individual judges who have been evaluated can use what they have learned to improve their performance on the bench."
The pilot evaluation project is the committee's first effort to assess judicial performance across Trial Courts to achieve a uniform system useful to all judges. Previously, each Trial Court designed and implemented its own program of judicial performance enhancement.
In addition to Judge Sanders and Mona Hochberg, committee members are Superior Court Judge Robert H. Bohn Jr., Probate and Family Court Judge David M. Fuller, Boston Municipal Court Judge Thomas C. Horgan, Southeastern Housing Court Judge Manuel Kyriakakis, Fitchburg District Court First Justice Paul F. LoConto, Land Court Judge Leon J. Lombardi, and Bristol Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth P. Nasif. Associate Labor Counsel Anne-Marie Ofori-Acquaah represents Chief Justice for Administration and Management Barbara A. Dortch-Okara.