Judge Patrick Clifford received both his undergraduate and law degrees from St. Louis University. He served as assistant prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County from 1975-1978. Judge Clifford assumed his current post as associate circuit judge in 1979 and presently serves in Div. 39 of the 21st Judicial Circuit.
Judge Clifford is a member of The Missouri Bar, St. Louis County Bar Association, Missouri Association of Probate and Associate Circuit Court Judges, and the Missouri Municipal and Associate Circuit Judge Association. His is also a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, the Backstoppers, the 94th Infantry Division Association, and St. Monica’s Catholic Church.
Attorneys who responded to survey questions rated Judge Clifford on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing “Strongly Disagree” and 5 representing “Strongly Agree.”
Judge Clifford’s highest scores were for rendering prompt decisions (3.47), treating parties equally (3.45), conducting the proceedings in a neutral manner (3.43) and issuing orders that are clearly written (3.40).
Judge Clifford’s lowest scores were for addressing individuals respectfully (2.74), starting proceedings on time (2.71), maintaining a professional demeanor in the courtroom (2.87), and being prepared for court (2.96). The 21st Circuit Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee identifies these as areas of needed improvement.
Judge Clifford did not conduct any jury trials during the applicable period of time; therefore, there were no jury surveys for review by the committee. Judge Clifford did not submit any written orders or opinions for committee review.
In reaching a recommendation, the 21st Circuit JPE Committee considered that Judge Clifford’s attorney survey scores were among the lowest and the categories in which his lowest and highest scores were registered. The committee also considered written comments contained in the attorney survey and heard personal commentary from attorneys who are experienced in practicing in Judge Clifford’s court. The circuit committee forwarded its proposed recommendation to Judge Clifford on August 1, 2014, after which he appealed to the Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluation Appeals Panel.
On September 3, 2014, the Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluation Appeals Panel convened pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 10.55(a)(6) and heard the appeal of Judge Patrick Clifford from the recommendation of the JPE Committee of the 21st Judicial Circuit. The Appeals Panel considered all the documentary evidence that was before the Circuit Committee. The Appeals Panel interviewed Judge Clifford and received information presented in his behalf. The Appeals Panel also interviewed the chair of the circuit committee about the circuit committee’s recommendation and how it was determined.
The judicial performance evaluation process is intended to evaluate judges based on their attainment of identified performance standards. The process is not intended to evaluate judges based on whether a particular judge’s evaluation scores were higher or lower than other judges. Ranking judges against each other is inconsistent with best practices from JPE model programs and is not supposed to occur in Missouri. Yet, Judge Clifford and two other St. Louis County associate circuit judges were given a negative recommendation by the Circuit Committee because they were deemed to fall below a statistical range compared to the other nine St. Louis County judges evaluated in 2014. No other JPE evaluation committee in Missouri used this method. The JPE committees for Jackson, Platte, Clay, and Greene counties, the City of St. Louis, and the appellate committee did not make negative recommendations for judges who were at the lower end of a statistical range compared to other judges.
The judicial performance evaluation process is supposed to be fair and impartial in its application statewide. The use of a method by the 21st Circuit JPE Committee that resulted in one-fourth of the judges being given a negative recommendation was an inappropriate methodology. To apply this method statewide would mean that a number of merit-selected judges would be given a negative recommendation across the board during every evaluation cycle, which is not how the system is intended to work under any known JPE standard, and there is no precedent for it in Missouri. Therefore, the negative recommendation for Judge Clifford should be reversed.
The next question before the Appeals Panel is whether Judge Clifford’s evaluation should be remanded to the circuit committee or decided by the Appeals Panel. Six of the seven members of the Appeals Panel are the chairs of the other six JPE committees, each of whom were elected by their respective committees and collectively represent 72 diverse JPE committee members, 36 of whom are lay persons and 36 of whom are lawyers. The Supreme Court has entrusted the chairs with appeal authority under Rule 10.55(a)(6). There is no provision in Rule 10.55(a)(6) for a remand. Therefore, final authority over a matter under appeal rests with the Appeals Panel.
Having considered the evidence and being fully advised, the Appeals Panel determines that Judge Patrick Clifford should be given a “do retain” recommendation for 2014.