By the King County Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee, Michael Ricketts, Chair and Prof. David C. Brody, WSU Spokane
The King County Bar Association has completed and announced the results of its 2007 survey of attorneys regarding the performance of King County Superior Court judges, Those results present a strongly favorable assessment of the judges of the King County Superior Court. Overall, judges received positive ratings (acceptable and above) nearly 90% of the time. Individual judges, for the most part, received positive ratings.
The King County Bar Association (KCBA) has conducted and published surveys of its members’ evaluations of judicial officers since 1972. The quadrennial survey summarizes practicing attorneys’ subjective assessments of the judges who hear and decide their cases. The survey provides information to the public for judicial elections by presenting assessments of each judge so that voters can make informed decisions by taking into account the collective assessments of those lawyers who practice in front of these judicial officers. It also provides important information to the public, the Bar, and the Bench on performance of the local judicial branch as a whole.
For the 2007 survey, there were five possible responses to each survey question: unacceptable, poor, acceptable, very good and excellent. Overall, most attorneys — more than 70% — rated the performance of judges in each of the four evaluation categories as either "excellent" or "very good." A similar percentage of the responses to individual questions within those areas fell into the categories "very good" and "excellent." Furthermore, the percent of "positive" responses (acceptable or better) ranged from 95% for judicial demeanor to 90% for integrity and impartiality. Overall, respondents see the Superior Court to be well above average on each of the evaluative criteria.
On aggregate, judges were rated higher in 2007 than in previous surveys. However, comparisons between the 2007 survey and for prior years are not necessarily practicable. Measures were obtained using different questions, different survey delivery and return procedures, and different identification of eligible attorneys.
The 2007 survey of evaluations of the judges of the King County Superior Court took place during the months of April through October 2007. The survey included attorney evaluations of 51 judges1 of the King County Superior Court2. The survey administration was a departure from the past. With advancements in technology and methodological capacity, the 2007 survey modified who would be asked to provide input on judicial performance, what information would be obtained, how surveys would be distributed, and how results from the evaluation would be measured and presented.
An important component of a judicial evaluation program is to obtain information from individuals who have had an opportunity to personally observe the judge being evaluated during the relevant time period. (American Bar Association, 2005; Brody, 2004). Accordingly, rather than attempt to survey all members of the King County Bar Association or all lawyers practicing in King County, only attorneys who were identified as having appeared before a particular judge were invited to participate in the evaluation of that judge.
Attorneys were identified by two means. First, a report was obtained from the Washington Administrative Office for the Courts listing attorneys who appeared at trials, hearings, and other in-court proceedings in King County Superior Court cases that concluded in calendar years 2005 and 2006. Second, courtroom logs were maintained of all attorney appearances before the various judges from late March to mid-September 2007. Attorneys identified by either means as having made a court appearance during those time frames were invited to participate in the survey for the judge before whom they appeared.
Another new development in the survey framework was the method by which participants were provided with the survey form, and responses received back from them. In the past, surveys were mailed to all King County Bar Association members, or to all lawyers practicing in King County, with responses also mailed back. In the immediate prior survey, in 2003, mailing out of surveys was abandoned and the survey instead distributed by e-mail, printed in the monthly Bar Bulletin, and made available on the KCBA Web site.
For the 2007 survey, individual attorneys identified as having appeared before a particular judge were sent an e-mail asking them to participate in the survey. The e-mail contained a link to a web-based survey questionnaire for the attorney to evaluate that particular judge. An attorney who had appeared before multiple judges received a separate e-mail providing that attorney with the survey to evaluate each individual judge. (An attorney who appeared before the same judge more than once only received one survey e-mail regarding that judge as a result. Moreover, the software was programmed so that an attorney could complete the survey only one time for any particular judge.)
The responses to the survey were received via this web-based system, for tabulation in the survey results. E-mails were sent on a staggered basis between mid-April and mid-October 2007, to attorneys who have made appearances before the King County Superior Court in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Additionally, attorneys for whom e-mail addresses could not be obtained were sent paper copies of surveys for judges they were eligible to evaluate, through the mail or messenger service.
The judicial evaluation survey was conducted in collaboration with Washington State University. Surveys were processed through a secure web server, and then delivered directly to WSU researchers for tabulation and analysis of results. WSU researchers also provided methodological and statistical consultation to the Judicial Evaluation Committee, including in the preparation of the survey report.
Another departure from past surveys was the specific criteria upon which judicial performance was measured. Following the ABA Guidelines for Judicial Performance Evaluation, the 2007 evaluation focused upon behavior-based measures. To do this, attorneys who appeared before a judge were asked to evaluate judges regarding specific criteria that are widely acknowledged to be qualities that judges are expected to possess (Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, 2006). Specifically, attorneys were asked to consider four individual criteria in each of four areas:
Legal Decision Making
- Capably identified and analyzed legal and factual issues.
- Capably applied rules of evidence and procedure.
- Articulated rulings and grounds for rulings in a clear and concise manner.
- Was prepared for court.
Demeanor, Temperament and Communication
- Treated people with courtesy and respect.
- Was attentive to proceedings.
- Acted with patience and self-control.
- Used clear oral communication while in court.
- Maintained control the courtroom.
- Appropriately enforced court rules and deadlines.
- Made decisions and rulings in a prompt, timely manner.
- Used the court’s time efficiently.
Integrity and Impartiality
- Avoided impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
- Displayed a neutral presence on the bench.
- Based rulings on the facts and the law.
- Treated all individuals equally and without bias based on race, gender, economic status, or any other extralegal personal characteristic
Attorneys were asked to rate judges on the above criteria using one of five possible responses (unacceptable, poor, acceptable, very good, and excellent). Responses to the four questions in each of the four areas were added together to form a composite index for each of the four areas. This method of evaluation and tabulation of results provides a more detailed set of information for use by voters, members of the bar, and judges under evaluation than single-question measures (Schmidt and Kaplan, 1971). Using this method, results are reported for individual questions as well as for the composite index developed for each of the four areas.
In another departure from past practice, survey participants were not asked to provide an "overall" evaluation of the performance of an individual judge. Following recommended evaluation research practices (Jacobs, Kafry, & Zedeck, 1980), such a question was deemed inappropriate in light of its inherent subjectivity, and its inability to differentiate between the more specific, behavior-based criteria represented by the subject matter of the actual survey questions.
A goal of every type of evaluation is to ensure the reliability of the results obtained. In examining results obtained in this judicial performance evaluation, a determination of reliability is not amenable to a single measure, but rather an amalgamation of four factors.
The first item is the number of respondents completing evaluations for individual judges. A total of 4,821 surveys were completed by 1,504 different individual attorneys. The number of responses per judge ranged from a low of 30 to a high of 163. The average and median number of responses per judge were 94.50 and 89, respectively.
In the invitation to complete the survey, and in the survey itself, attorneys were asked not to evaluate a judge if they did not appear before him or her. Additionally, attorneys were asked to indicate the approximate number of times they had appeared before the judge being evaluated during the prior two years. Surveys in which the number of appearances was not indicated were not included in the evaluation.
Eighty-two percent of respondents reported appearing before the judge in court multiple times during the two years prior to completing the evaluation. In fact, nearly half of all respondents reported that they appeared in the judge’s court at least four times during this timeframe. However, it should be noted that a single hearing may provide a suitable basis for completing an evaluation.
The complete report is posted on the KCBA Web site in pdf format at Judicial Survey 2007 - Full Report (which includes the reports for each individual judge) or you can view a table summarizing the results in either pdf format or in html format.
1 Results were obtained for Judges Michael Spearman and Richard Jones, who are no longer on the Superior Court bench, and are presented in this report. Evaluations were not conducted for judges who were appointed to the bench after March 1, 2007 (Judges Susan Craighead, Bruce Heller and Kimberley Prochnau).
2 Thirteen appointed Commissioners also serve on the Superior Court. In the past, Commissioners were evaluated alongside Judges in the KCBA judicial performance survey. However, due to the different manner in which the survey was conducted in 2007, it was not necessary to do this and it was also decided that it would be more efficient and convenient to separately conduct a survey of the Commissioners (using the same survey framework and questions described herein) in the Spring of 2008.