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 YourMissouriJudges.org. For quick reference, landing pages for voters in nonpartisan circuits are provided:
- Clay County (7th Circuit)
- Greene County (31st Circuit)
- Jackson County (16th Circuit)
- Platte County (6th Circuit)
- St. Louis City (22nd Circuit)
- St. Louis County (21st Circuit)
- All Other Counties
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.