Judges on trial: How to promote judicial accountability

January 19, 2010

Public employees have long been subject to performance reviews that evaluate how well they are performing their jobs. But can judges, public employees who literally hold the power of life and death in their hands, be assessed in the same way? New research from North Carolina State University and East Carolina University shows that there is an effective way to evaluate judges, which benefits both the public and the judges themselves.

"Judicial independence and accountability are key to a sound judicial branch," says Dr. Rick Kearney, co-author of the study and director of NC State's School of Public and International Affairs. "And the judicial performance evaluation (JPE) system makes judges accountable, without affecting judicial independence."

The JPE system is a "360 degree review, providing a medley of evaluations from people who have direct dealings with a - including their superiors, their employees and other judges," Kearney explains. The JPE, which is performed by an impartial state commission, provides subjective feedback, which can identify perceived problems with a judge, such as sexism, racism or poor case management. But it also provides objective data that can be used to identify inefficiencies or questionable legal reasoning - such as the number of cases a judge has overturned on appeal and the length of time that passes between a case being heard in the courtroom and a decision being issued. Currently, 20 states have adopted the JPE system to review some or all of their judges.

"We wanted to evaluate the efficacy of the JPE system due to growing interest among states, including North Carolina, that are considering adopting JPE protocols," Kearney says. The researchers analyzed data from the six states that are recognized as running model JPE programs: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah and Alaska. Kearney co-authored the study with Dr. Sharon Paynter, an assistant professor of at East Carolina University.

"We found that, at least in these states, the JPE is a good way to assess the performance of judges," Kearney says. A good JPE program has multiple benefits, Kearney explains. For example, in states that elect judges, it helps voters make educated decisions at the ballot box. It also gives judges feedback that they can use to improve their case management and performance.

"The JPE approach hasn't been adopted in more states largely because of resistance from judges themselves," Kearney says. "For example, we found there is growing support for JPE in the North Carolina legal community, but there is a lack of support from state judicial leaders. Without promotion of the idea from these leaders, it is unlikely to move forward. However, we also found that in states that have implemented JPE, judges became comfortable with the system once they were familiar with it.

Explore further: Fla. judges, lawyers must 'unfriend' on Facebook

More information: The study, "Who Watches the Watchmen? Evaluating Judicial Performance in the American States," is published in the January 2010 issue of the journal Administration & Society.

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not rated yet Jan 19, 2010
Judges as well as any other public servant with great power must be made very easy to remove from their public office. That is, permanently removable and actively prevented from ever holding any other type of powerful public office or public job ... (as opposed to shuffling suspected bad apples around to other public jobs like what tends to happen now ) .
This is the only answer to the age old well known problem of the human condition that with full certainly "power always tends to corrupt". Any holder of power should thus hold their power in a way that the amount of power held is inversely proportional to how easy it is for them to lose the power and to lose everything else they hold dear or have acquired from the position of power. In other words the more power you have the privilege to hold more consequences you will have if you abuse it and the easier it will be to remove you and your power with ever less and less effort needed to remove you.
not rated yet Jan 19, 2010
NV has (or had) elected Supreme Court judges and there was no requirement that they be lawyers or members of the bar.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2010
It's a pity we don't have something like JPE in Europe.

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