Lawyers Journal

Judicial evaluations system running smoothly

Judges receive high ratings, confidentiality preserved

The recently launched judicial evaluations system is performing better than expected.

Just as predicted, attorneys are not using performance evaluation forms to unfairly criticize judges and the privacy of judges and evaluators is being strictly protected.

"We have received favorable results," said MBA Vice President Edward W. McIntyre, chair of the Judicial Evaluations Standing Committee, "They are satisfactory in the volume we've received. Frankly, the results received were anticipated. Ninety-five percent of the evaluations are satisfactory to above-average.

"This Internet-based evaluation process has made it convenient for lawyers to evaluate judges and the evaluations mirror the previous paper-based evaluation efforts, reflecting the judiciary, by and large, is doing an exemplary job."

The judicial evaluations system was launched in March. The number of evaluations completed has increased weekly, but the Standing Committee will release numbers when it compiles an annual report in accordance with its governing provisions.

Confidentiality, anonymity and privacy were legitimate concerns when the program was being established. The MBA's information technology staff has been able to completely encrypt the process to the point that neither the evaluator nor judge's name ever appears on the printed evaluation form. Assured that anonymity of judges and evaluators is preserved, the Judicial Evaluation Standing Committee will now move on to discuss ways in which the data will be reported. The ultimate goal is for lawyers to routinely turn to the system and evaluate judges on a regular basis.

"We want to make the process part of the legal culture in Massachusetts," McIntyre said. "We want this to be an habitual task for lawyers to do when they get back to office, after they have concluded a case or a motion in front of a judge. We want to provide enough feedback, the good and the bad, to judges as possible. We want them to know what they are performing well and where they may be able to improve."

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 18,500 members statewide are eligible to participate online in the current evaluation process. Information about the process, secure registration and login and details of the MBA's privacy policy are available online at www.massbar.org/jeval.

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 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 and Chief Justice for Administration and Management Robert A. Mulligan on a quarterly basis. An annual report documenting the overall results of the evaluations will be published (information concerning individual judges will not be included) and 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 committee wants lawyers to not use the judge's name inside the comments section as an added step to ensuring the judge's privacy will be maintained. However, even if an attorney adds the name in the comments box, the system's technology encrypts that name so that the committee does not know the name of the judge being evaluated. In addition to not seeing the name of the judge being evaluated, the committee also does not know who the evaluator is.

Before the system was launched, the committee was confident its technology would create anonymity. Now that this has been confirmed, the committee will move on to discuss ways in which the data should be analyzed.

"We are much more confident," McIntyre said. "The technology is much better than we anticipated it to be and our IT staff is very attuned to the committee's mission. We are always conscious of anonymity and now there are other issues, analytic and reporting issues that we will be more focused on. We are looking at the reporting format."

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association