Frequently Asked Questions
What are the characteristics of a good judge? And how can people be assured that a judge is, in fact, doing a good job? These are questions that have been debated for thousands of years. But Missourians now have an easy way to learn about the performance of many of the judges we have entrusted to resolve everything from property disputes to life and death issues.
Through the work of the Judicial Performance Review Committee – a statewide panel composed of lawyers, non-lawyers and retired judges – Missourians have access to in-depth analysis of the performance of judges serving under the state’s nonpartisan method of judicial selection and retention.
Why do I have a choice among candidates for some judicial positions but not for others?
Missouri judges are accountable to the people, although their initial selection process varies. The Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan provides for partisan elections at the circuit level and appointment and retention elections at the appellate level and in circuits which have adopted the nonpartisan process.
Partisan elected judges run under a party label against challengers, unless no one chooses to oppose them. On the ballot, you will be asked which judicial candidate you prefer.
On the other hand, judges selected through the Non-Partisan Court Plan do not run against challengers. You are asked to vote for or against the judge based on the strength of their performance on the bench. Performance reviews for this is the group of judges are available on this website.
How can I learn more about nonpartisan judges seeking retention this year?
Because nonpartisan judges don’t run against an opponent, they are prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from campaigning for retention. Due to this prohibition, and because judges serving under the Missouri Plan are either appellate judges or serving in large metropolitan areas, voters often have difficulty finding information to consider as they prepare to vote on the retention of these judges.
To help voters gain insight as to the performance of judges seeking retention this year, the Judicial Performance Review Committee has analyzed the performance of each nonpartisan judge appearing on this year’s general election ballot. The committee’s determines whether each judge substantially meets overall judicial performance standards. The committee’s findings are published on this website on or before Oct. 1 of each general election year.
How did the Judicial Performance Review Committee perform its work?
The Judicial Performance Review Committee studied the results of anonymous surveys completed by lawyers, surveys completed by jurors (where applicable), and studied written opinions submitted by the judges for their legal reasoning and clarity.
After reviewing this information for each judge, the Judicial Performance Review Committee voted as to whether they believed each judge substantially overall meets judicial performance standards.
Where can I find the full findings of the Judicial Performance Review Committee?
This website showcases the committee’s findings for each nonpartisan judge seeking retention this year. For those who are interested in more detail, the numerical results of the lawyer survey and juror survey (where applicable) are also available on this website, along with copies of the judges’ written opinions.
What is the Non-Partisan Court Plan or Missouri Plan?
Missouri voters adopted this plan to the state constitution in 1940 to keep money and politics out of our courts. Judges appointed under the Non-Partisan Court Plan, or known across the nation as the Missouri Plan, are nominated by judicial commissions and then selected by the governor. After the judge’s first 12 months on the bench, nonpartisan judges must go before the voters in a retention election. Voters are asked whether each of these judges should be retained. To be retained, a judge must receive a majority vote. A similar retention election occurs at the end of each term.
If a judge does not receive a majority of votes, his or her judicial office will become vacant, and the nomination and selection process begins again.
Terms for appellate court judges are 12 years, while circuit judges serve six-year terms and associate circuit judges serve four-year terms.
What is the purpose of the Non-Partisan Court Plan?
The Non-Partisan Court Plan is designed to reduce the role of politics and money in the selection and retention of judges. It helps ensure the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary by shielding judges from undue pressure – such as inappropriate intrusion into judicial selection by political interests and the need to raise funds from partisan interests for a re-election campaign.
This innovative plan, approved by voters in Missouri in 1940 and since copied by more than 30 other states, has three other major advantages. First, because nominations for judicial openings are based on merit, Missourians are assured that highly-qualified individuals are selected. Second, each judge remains accountable to the citizens they serve, because citizens have the opportunity to decide whether a judge remains on the bench. Third, voters are able to decide a judge’s fate based on that judge’s record – not unsubstantiated allegations contained in an opponent’s political rhetoric or advertising.
Why are there a different number of respondents for each judge on the Lawyer Surveys?
The difference in the number of lawyers completing surveys for Missouri judges is because only lawyers who have appeared before a judge are invited to take the survey. The JPR Committee adheres to judicial review best practices, which recommends only collecting the perspectives of those who have firsthand experience of the judge’s performance. The lawyer surveys are voluntary, so not all who appear before a judge complete it. The type of docket as well as the length of service on the bench (note nonpartisan judges stand for retention after their first year on the bench) also impacts the number of lawyers who have appeared before a judge and therefore are eligible to complete a survey.
Why do some judges have Juror Surveys while others do not?
Only judges who are assigned to preside over jury trials may have juror surveys. Of note, not all judges have jury trials. In fact, fewer than 5% of all cases filed in Missouri result in a jury trial. For those judges who are assigned to preside over jury trials, jurors are asked to voluntarily complete and return a juror survey.
How many opinions are provided per judge?
Judges at the circuit level are requested to provide three opinions. Judges at the appellate level are requested to provide five opinions.
How are the opinion examples for each judge selected?
The JPR Committee requests judges up for retention to provide opinions each judge predominantly wrote during the term for which their performance is being evaluated. The same opinions members of the JPR Committee reviewed for clarity, reasoning, and adherence to the law are made available to the public at YourMissouriJudges.org. In the event no opinions are published for a judge it is due to the type of docket(s) the judge handles, as not all dockets and matters necessitate formal written opinions.