Watch Your Email Inbox for Survey Request
Every two years, the King County Bar Association conducts a survey of attorneys on the caliber of a different group of our local judges. The surveys are conducted in the months leading up to judicial election cycles. All King County District Court judges, Seattle Municipal Court judges, and many other municipal judges will be on the ballot in 2014, so those judicial officers will be the focus of a bar survey starting this month. (Superior Court judges will be the subject of our survey before the 2016 election cycle).
The survey will be sent by email to all attorneys who have appeared before the courts of limited jurisdiction from January 2011 through the summer of this year. KCBA receives this data from records provided to us by two sources: the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts for the records of King County District Court and most municipal courts, and the Seattle Municipal Court Administrator's Office for that court. The technology staff in those offices report all recorded appearances at trials, hearings and other in-court proceedings, which results in thousands of data records of judicial interactions by attorneys.
A bar committee, chaired by past KCBA Trustee Carl Forsberg (Forsberg & Umlauf, P.S.), reviews the questions to be asked and confirms the methodology to be used. Public defenders, prosecutors, private attorneys, current KCBA trustees, past KCBA presidents and retired judges are recruited to serve on the committee.
This year's KCBA survey is being conducted by a research firm in Alaska - Information Insights. For the past 10 years, it has been responsible for a similar project with the Alaska Judicial Council. All attorneys in Alaska are regularly surveyed via an online instrument to evaluate both judges seeking retention and candidates for appointment to the bench. The Alaska Judicial Council uses a question format very similar to KCBA's. The process and research firm's work is well regarded by both bench and bar in Alaska.
We expect the KCBA survey announcement and link to be emailed the week of November 4 to attorneys with appearances before these courts (so, right around the time you are reading this column). All lawyers in King County, whether or not a member of KCBA, will be reminded by email notice that the survey is under way. Attorneys will have a defined period to complete the survey so that the research firm has sufficient time to provide results to KCBA's Judicial Officer Survey Committee before the end of this year. Our plan is to release the results publicly at the beginning of January.
If you have appeared in King County District Court, Seattle Municipal Court, or any other municipal court in King County, but do not receive an email about the survey by Monday, November 11, please contact me so I can confirm that our research firm sends a survey to you.
Changes to the survey methodology are being implemented based on improvements that the Board of Trustees adopted earlier this year and that were announced in the June issue of the Bar Bulletin. These include extending the survey period to cover the full judicial term of office instead of a two-year period. Second, the data collection process timeline will see our results released in January 2014, which is 4½ months before the filing period for the 2014 election season. Third, we have actively recruited a strong committee of 18 leading lawyers and retired judges to work on this project and review the questions and results. Lastly, a new private sector research firm has been engaged as part of our plan to increase confidentiality of our data.
Finally, a reminder about the role of this survey. KCBA has conducted these surveys for 65 years, and they are relied on by judges and attorneys to provide valuable insights into the work of our judges. But it is important to remind ourselves not to confuse this survey with any rigorous, scientific, opinion-gathering process.
As has been noted, it reflects the opinions, writ large, of those attorneys who choose to express them. The scuttlebutt of the courthouse writ large. Nothing more, nothing less. These opinions have value, but they must be considered along with candidate ratings, debates and other efforts the bar makes to offer as complete a picture of judicial performance as we can.
Andrew Prazuch is KCBA's executive director. He can be reached by email (email@example.com) or phone (206-267-7061).