February 2014 Bar Bulletin
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February 2014 Bar Bulletin

Survey Rates District, Municipal Court Judges

By Carl Forsberg


The quadrennial bar survey of attorneys appearing in courts of limited jurisdiction was released January 27, with respondents giving positive evaluations to the majority of judges serving on King County district and municipal courts. Results show that 53 percent of attorneys gave judges high marks as "very good" or "excellent." A summary of the survey appears on pages 16-17 of this issue; the complete survey is available online at www.kcba.org/judicialsurvey.

The King County Bar Association (KCBA) has conducted and published surveys and evaluations of judicial officers since 1948. The survey results are a summary of practicing attorneys' assessments of the judges who hear and decide their cases. The survey provides information to the public prior to 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. These surveys and evaluations also provide important information to the public, the bar and the bench on performance of the local judicial branch as a whole.

Every four years this survey is conducted of attorneys practicing in courts of limited jurisdiction. The last survey was published in 2010. In addition, on an alternate four-year cycle, KCBA publishes a similar survey on the Superior Court judges. The most recent Superior Court survey was published in 2012; the next one will be released in 2016.

In Washington, courts of limited jurisdiction are comprised of the district (county) and municipal courts. The Administrative Office of the Courts reports that "excluding parking infractions, seven out of every eight cases filed in all state courts are filed at this level. This is due primarily to the broad jurisdiction these courts have over traffic violations and misdemeanors."

It is important to not confuse this survey with a rigorous, scientific, opinion-gathering process. This survey reflects the opinions of those attorneys who appeared before these judges and chose to respond to the survey. This is the collective report from those attorneys; nothing more, nothing less. These opinions have value, but they must be considered along with KCBA's judicial candidate ratings, judicial candidate debates and other efforts the bar makes to offer as complete a picture of judicial performance as it can.

While the survey is not scientific, the Association makes every effort to conduct the best survey possible. Improvements to the past survey process were recently made, including the creation of a strong oversight committee of government prosecutors, public defenders, private attorneys and retired judges, as well as additional controls on data confidentiality. A full report of these improvements was outlined in the June 2013 Bar Bulletin.

The 2014 Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Judicial Officer Survey was conducted for 49 judges serving in King County District Court and municipal courts in King County. The survey was conducted during November and December 2013. Survey development methods were similar to those used by KCBA since 2007. However, the survey administration was conducted in a different manner from that used in the past; a single online survey was used instead of a separate survey for each judge.

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