Missouri Judicial Performance Review findings available to the public at

Citizens urged to learn more about their judges before they vote Nov. 6

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee has provided Missouri voters with their performance findings for 59 nonpartisan judges who will be up for retention in the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. All Missouri voters will have at least three judges appear in retention elections 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, objective information about the performance of our judges up for retention to help them make informed decisions about our judges.”

The committee reviewed the performance of 59 judges including two Supreme Court of Missouri judges, four Court of Appeals judges, 31 circuit court judges and 22 associate circuit court judges in circuits where the judges are appointed under the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan. Of the 59 judges, a majority of the committee voted one judge does not 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.”

Brochures with the findings will be available at libraries, courthouses and senior centers across the state. Missouri voters may also request one be mailed to them for free by calling 573-635-4128.

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 10 questions about the judge’s courtroom conduct. For instance: Did the judge clearly explain the legal issues of the case? Did the judge appear to be free from bias? Did the judge appear to be well-prepared for the case?

The lawyers’ survey focused on key traits that judges need to render justice effectively and fairly. Circuit and associate circuit judges were rated in 19 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 increased voter participation in judicial retention elections since 2008 because when voters feel more informed, they are more likely to vote.”

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 best 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 and updated in 2016. The Missouri 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.

Missouri’s Non-Partisan Court Plan, commonly known as The Missouri Plan, turns 76 years old Nov. 5. In the more than three-quarters of a century since its creation, the plan has served as a model for other states and has been adopted by Missouri voters to apply to trial court judges in additional Missouri circuits. Above all, it has worked to attract high-quality judges in the least political way while giving voters the final say.

As Missourians head to the polls to vote Nov. 8, The Missouri Plan will once again be in action. This year, there are 48 judges up for retention across Missouri ballots – from associate circuit court judges to a Supreme Court of Missouri judge. That means every Missouri voter has the opportunity to vote in a judicial retention election. To help make sure voters are informed, an independent committee reviews nonpartisan judges selected through the Missouri Plan on everything from written opinions to how lawyers and jurors rate a judge’s courtroom performance and demeanor. The committee’s findings are then made available to the public prior to an election.

The Missouri Plan’s process has many advantages. First, because nominations for judicial openings are based on merit, Missourians are assured that highly qualified individuals are selected for nonpartisan judicial positions. Second, each judge remains accountable to the citizens they serve because citizens have the opportunity to decide whether a judge remains on the bench after the first 12 months they serve and at the end of each term. 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.

Although the plan is not without its critics, it has stood the test of time, garnered rave reviews and endorsements, and grown to be a significant leader in the way judicial selection works across the nation. In fact, more than 30 states have adopted it in one form or another since its founding by Missouri voters in 1940.

Still, The Missouri Plan’s roots are humble. In the 1930s, corruption and greed ran rampant in judicial decision-making. Elections were greatly influenced by “political machines” that controlled the ballot box through fraud, manipulation and even violence. Many believed that the system was in need of an overhaul, and, in 1937, a movement for change began. By 1940, a bipartisan committee called the Missouri Institute for the Administration of Justice developed a proposal for a merit selection process. On Nov. 5, 1940, Missouri voters adopted the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan to keep politics and money out of our state’s high courts.

For many years, evaluations were conducted at the local level with committees either recommending or not recommending that a judge be retained. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Missouri modified this practice to instead have a 21-member statewide panel review judges and determine if a judge substantially meets overall judicial performance standards. Findings from the 2016 review process are available at

The Missouri Plan was created to work for Missourians. As the 2016 general election draws closer, celebrate the plan’s creation and how it still continues to work for you by staying informed about the judges appearing on your ballot.