Voters urged to learn more about their judges before they vote Nov. 3

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee today provided Missouri voters with their performance findings for 53 nonpartisan judges who will be up for retention in the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. All Missouri voters will have at least two judges in retention elections appear on their ballot this November.

“We want to make sure the people of Missouri have good judges who are fair, impartial and skilled,” said Dale Doerhoff, chair of the statewide committee. “Our independent committee provides voters with extensive information about the performance of our judges up for retention to help them make informed decisions.”

The committee reviewed the performance of 53 judges including one Supreme Court of Missouri judge, four Court of Appeals judges, 26 circuit court judges and 22 associate circuit court judges in circuits where the judges are appointed under the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan. The committee found all 53 judges substantially meet overall judicial performance standards.

The complete performance review information of each judge is available online at For quick reference, landing pages for voters in nonpartisan circuits are provided:

Doerhoff said visitors to the website “will see the lawyer surveys, juror surveys of trial judges, and written opinions from the judges the committee used in casting their votes.”

The committee considers a variety of information about each judge, including lawyers’ ratings of judges, jurors’ ratings of some trial judges and written opinions from judges.

Jurors were asked a series of questions about the judge’s courtroom conduct. The lawyers’ survey focused on key traits that judges need to render justice effectively and fairly. Circuit and associate circuit judges were rated in areas including a wide range of observable skills and traits, such as treating people fairly, competency in the law and writing clear opinions. Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges were rated on a different set of criteria as they decide cases that are appealed because of possible legal errors, either procedural or through misinterpretations of the law. These judges were rated on areas such as whether their opinions were clearly written, whether they adequately explained the basis of the court’s decision and whether they issued opinions in a timely manner. For all judges, lawyers’ surveys were converted into a numerical score between 1 and 5, with 1 being the poorest and 5 being the best.

“These extensive reviews help Missouri voters determine whether or not the judges up for retention are meeting the expectations of the public and lawyers,” said Doerhoff.

Doerhoff said the committee’s work is important because it helps make sure the people of Missouri have good judges who substantially meet overall judicial performance standards. He added that the performance reviews have had a positive impact on the number of people who vote in retention elections.

“The committee’s work to educate voters about the performance of our judges has led to improved voter participation in judicial retention elections since 2008 because when voters feel more informed, they are more likely to vote,” said Doerhoff.

Missouri uses a constitutional merit system known as the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan to select its appellate judges and trial-level judges in the City of St. Louis and Clay, Greene, Jackson, Platte and St. Louis counties. In other parts of the state, trial-level judges seek election in partisan races.

Before becoming a judge, all nonpartisan judges are screened by a nominating commission whose members include lawyers, non-lawyers and a judge. The commission selects the three most qualified candidates and forwards their names to the governor, who chooses one candidate to fill the position. After their first year on the bench and again at the end of each term, nonpartisan judges must run in retention elections. In retention elections the ballot reads: “Shall Judge X be retained?” To be retained, each merit-selected judge must receive a simple majority.

The Missouri Bar is tasked with sharing the independent committee’s findings with the public. The Missouri Bar funds the review process, which was created by a Supreme Court of Missouri rule in 2008. Doerhoff emphasized that the committee operates independently of the bar and judiciary. He added that Missouri’s performance review system was developed and is continually updated based on model rules and best practices from the American Bar Association and the more than 20 judicial performance review systems across the nation.

The Supreme Court of Missouri issued an order dated June 15 revising Rules 10.50 – 10.55 governing Missouri’s judicial performance evaluation (JPE) to bring the process more in line with best practices across the nation. The Court’s revisions to Rules 10.50 – 10.55 will improve the information available to voters about judges up for retention by expanding the voices of non-lawyers in the evaluation process, leaving judging the judges to the voters, and fostering consistency in the evaluations by replacing the seven current committees with one statewide committee.

The purpose of Judicial Performance Evaluations is to provide information to voters to make sure the people of Missouri have good judges who are fair, impartial and skilled. At the general election every two years, dozens of judges – from nonpartisan circuits up to the Supreme Court of Missouri who were initially selected under the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan – appear on the ballot in retention elections after their first year on the bench and at the end of each term.

Dale Doerhoff, state coordinator and chair of the Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee, describes Missouri’s judicial evaluation process as the product of decades of experience and investigation into the best judicial performance evaluation practices across the United States. He added that “while it has accomplished the goals for which it was created, it can be improved.”

The evaluation program will continue to look at surveys which are an integral part in assessing the performance of judges up for retention. The surveys look at many aspects, including whether or not a judge treats people fairly, displays impartiality, and more. Now, with the Court’s changes, the voices of litigants will be added to the voices of jurors and lawyers – all of whom have direct experience with the judges. Many voters may not have direct contact with a judge up for retention and the addition of surveys of litigants will give voters an even better look into the inner workings of a judge’s courtroom.

Unlike the previous system, which asked JPE committees to make a recommendation regarding each judge seeking retention, the statewide committee will be tasked with determining if each judge meets accepted judicial performance standards. All but one other state with JPE systems have a single statewide JPE committee helping ensure evaluation results are systematic and fair across the state. Under the new structure, Missouri will join this best practice model, replacing its seven committees with one statewide committee composed of non-lawyers, lawyers and retired judges.

Erik Bergmanis, 2015-16 president of The Missouri Bar thanked the non-lawyers and lawyers who have served on the JPE committees for the time and effort they have put into the judicial performance evaluation process, adding that the state bar and the citizens of Missouri are “indebted to them for all they have done to maintain the quality of Missouri’s judiciary.”

As part of the order, the Supreme Court of Missouri appointed members to serve on the new statewide JPE committee. Click here to see the full list of appointees to the new statewide committee.

Judicial performance evaluations began more than 65 years ago in Missouri when, in 1948, The Missouri Bar began conducting a statewide poll of lawyers about Missouri judges up for retention. Originally, this poll had only one question about each of the judges standing for retention: “Should Judge X be retained?” The survey process was improved upon over the years, leading to the Supreme Court of Missouri adopting a formal rule in 2008 to establish the modern Judicial Performance Evaluation program to help build an informed electorate when it comes to Missouri judges.

Doerhoof noted the Court’s newest changes “ensure that Missouri’s evaluation program is consistent with current best practices and will help provide even better information to Missouri voters.”

To learn more about the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan and judicial performance evaluation program, check out the rest of the website here at