Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 27, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Judicial Performance Reviews


  • The Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance Review publishes a report that ranks judges’ performances. Roberta Voss, chair of the commission, will explain the reviews and how they can assist voters in the November election.
Guests:
  • Roberta Voss - Chair of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Performance
Category: Vote 2010

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Superior court judges are listed for retention and there are a lot of judges on the ballot list. Who do you keep and who do you throw out? A report by the Arizona commission on judicial performance is designed to help. Earlier, I talked to Roberta Voss, chair of the commission, and she explained judicial performance reviews.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Roberta Voss:
Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons:
What do performance ratings look at?

Roberta Voss:
Well, the commission gets together every couple of years and we look at half the judges who were on the bench for retention, and we look at performance in terms of legal ability and whether they can administer justice fairly, whether they are unbiased on the bench, whether they run the calendar effectively. A lot of things we're looking at for effectiveness on the bench.

Ted Simons:
How are the reviews conducted? Who is involved?

Roberta Voss:
A lot of people involved. It's a public effort, it's a legal effort, the people who are actually in the courtrooms are the ones who are receiving surveys to fill out the information during the survey period, and then the results of those surveys go to a data center. The data center then compiles in an anonymous way, they assign numbers so the actual commission members don't know who the judges are, we then get the data from the data center and it is compiled completely numerically. So we take a look at all of the information in a short period of time, in a two-month period of time, pretty much, but it is a lot of data. And more specifically to your question, 30 members on the commission. 18 are public members, so it is very public-oriented. There are six judges and six attorneys, as well.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned some of the standards. Let's talk about what kind of standards need to be met. Legal ability is one of those standards. What does that mean?

Roberta Voss:
It is in the eye of the beholder, so whoever gets the survey, the bailiff, juror, lawyers, witness in the courtroom, they read the survey and they determine whether or not the judge has legal ability or whether or not the judge has treated them fairly or whether the judge is biased or effective.

Ted Simons:
So legal ability could mean, if I'm one of the people on the commission or one of the people doing the survey, if I don't think that particular judge, what, knows what he is talking about? There has to be a little bit of parameter, doesn't there?

Roberta Voss:
Well, the people inclined to know legal ability are those practicing in front of the judge. It can be peer review, so it is typically people experienced in the area, and oddly enough, you know, we sometimes think that if you’re the loser in the case, that you might treat someone poorly, but that's not what we see in the numbers. We actually see a lot of comments that someone has been treated fairly or the judge did a fine job on the bench, even from those who do not prevail in their cases.

Ted Simons:
Integrity and judicial temperament among the standard. Give us a general idea what that means.

Roberta Voss:
Sure. Some of the matters we see come up, maybe a judge doesn't look out into the audience often enough. Maybe the judge doesn’t acknowledge someone when they’re setting at the witness stand. We find that sometimes just little body language matters like that make a big difference. So it is a matter of job performance and public perception.

Ted Simons:
Communication skills would fall under that, as well.

Roberta Voss:
Absolutely.

Ted Simons:
Another standard, administrative performance. How can someone from the outside figure out a judge's administration performance?

Roberta Voss:
You look at your clock and see if you had an appointment at 1:00. If your matter started at 2:00 or 4:00 or got postponed, so sometimes someone who is in the courtroom will assume that the judge is at fault for that, or to be praised for how efficient the courtroom is run.

Ted Simons:
What -- how often do judges fail to meet the standards or don't quite get to the top of the list in terms of the scale, the standards scale?

Roberta Voss:
I believe since JPR was created, back in 1992, it's a constitutionally-created entity, since then I think there are three judges who have not met standards, according to the commission. All of the names, whether you meet standard or don't meet standard, are all sent to the ballot and it is up to the public to vote on those judges and vote whether to retain them on the bench or not retain them.

Ted Simons:
And they've all been retained?

Roberta Voss:
They've all been retained.

Ted Simons:
Does that suggest maybe there is a different way to do this? You would think since 1992 there has got to be a suspect judge out there somewhere.

Roberta Voss:
And there could be. And I think that through the analysis of the data that we produce the information the best we can. The best thing to do to change the system is encourage more people to investigate more about the judges. Go on the website and read more about the judges, look at more of the data we look at. They have the same information we've had to look at and they can vote to retain or not retain.

Ted Simons:
If I'm a judge and I see -- I will be able to see, correct, some of these reviews? You don't know who it is but you know what the review says, and it says that my integrity is suspect or my communication skills aren't the best, and I figure I've got great communication skills, a very fair-minded person; how I do respond? What are the avenues there?

Roberta Voss:
There are couple parts of the process, but I will focus on the judges up for retention. So if those judges find that they have a low score, the commission actually typically will ask that judge to write a response or come in and sit before the commission and maybe explain what's going on with their scores. So usually it's the commission members who reach out to the judge to express concern. The footnote to that, Ted, is there is another part of the process that the public gets involved in in the off sessions, on the off cycles, that talk about ways to improve communication or other skills.

Ted Simons:
And in another aspect of this, you know, everything is very partisan, controversial these days. A lot of yelling and shouting out there. How do you avoid ideological bends when people are looking at judiciary?

Roberta Voss:
Well, from the commission standpoint, there are no politics involved in this because we are looking at this purely based on data. We don't know the name of the judge, we don't know who we're reviewing at a particular turn of the page, so when we're looking at something, we have no idea who the person is. We're strictly looking at those numbers that are put before us. So there's no politics in that regard.

Ted Simons:
What about the numbers that get to you, the folks that are doing the survey, is there a concern there at all?

Roberta Voss:
No. Actually there's not. It is a pretty air tight system.

Ted Simons:
Okay.

Roberta Voss:
So the surveys come in, they are anonymous surveys. It is actually a fabulous question for everyone to know. The surveys that come in, we don't know -- we know what type of category they came from, whether it is a witness or a lawyer or a bailiff, but we don't know who that person is because there is no identifying markings. So it is strictly data input and the data centers, no idea who the people are, they don't know who the judges are either because they have assigned them numbers, so it is -- it is very numerical and confidential.

Ted Simons:
If these ratings are available on-line.

Roberta Voss:
They are available on-line.
Ted Simons:
azjudges.info.

Roberta Voss:
You can go to the Supreme Court website; you can go to the secretary of state's website. Since this is a big election cycle, you can click through there, also.

Ted Simons:
Good stuff. Thank you for joining us.

Roberta Voss:
Absolutely. Thank you.

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