The Massachusetts Bar Association has launched an online judicial evaluation system that enables lawyers across the commonwealth to assess the performance of the state's judges.
"The goal of this initiative is to improve the performance of individual judges and the judiciary as a whole," said MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell at Annual Conference 2005. "We want each judge to be the very best judge he or she can be. We want to bolster the confidence of all parties involved in the administration of justice in Massachusetts."
The 1992 Massachusetts Court Reform Act mandates judicial evaluations. The MBA last conducted independent judicial evaluations in 2000. That survey, in which some 4,000 MBA members participated, resulted in a 92 percent favorability rating of the state's approximately 500 judges.
The MBA's judicial performance evaluation system focuses on four areas: the promotion of judicial self-improvement; the enhancement of the overall quality of the judiciary; the detection of systemic issues; and the creation of continuing legal education programs to address issues.
Participants assess individual judges in 19 performance areas, including impartiality, knowledge, punctuality, preparedness, communication skills, courtesy and temperament.
The MBA's 13-member Judicial Evaluation Standing Committee, chaired by MBA Vice President Edward W. McIntyre, has day-to-day oversight of the evaluation process, but will ultimately report to MBA officers.
The standing committee includes: Nancy King of Framingham; Marc Perlin of Suffolk University Law School, Boston; Francis J. Lynch, III, of South Easton; J. Owen Todd of Todd and Weld, LLP, Boston; the Hon. Dina E. Fein of Springfield; Steven L. Hoffman of Cambridge; Randy S. Chapman of Chelsea; Jeffrey S. Stern of Boston; Marilynne R. Ryan of Walpole; Robert Costello of Boston; Janet Kenton-Walker of Boston; and Martin W. Healy, MBA General Counsel and ex-officio member.
The standing committee will compile data on a monthly basis and release it to the individual judges being evaluated as well as to their chief justices. Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan will be given the data on a quarterly basis, and an annual report documenting the overall results of the evaluations will be published (information concerning individual judges will not be included). This report will be made available to the public and will be sent to the SJC and to the legislature.
Beyond that, results of individual evaluations will be confidential, unless the standing committee determines it is in the interest of the administration of justice to make the results public. In such a case, the committee would recommend publication to the MBA officers.
"The process is designed to improve judicial performance and preserve judicial independence," said McIntyre. "It's totally apolitical, non-ideological and devoid of issue-oriented considerations."
"We're committed to preserving judicial independence at a time when it is under challenge in the commonwealth and the nation," McIntyre added. "Our efforts here are designed to preserve what Massachusetts has had for over 200 years - merit selection, lifetime tenure and judicial independence."