Saturday, July 10, 2010

Voter resources for retention judges are coming

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (subscription required) reported this week about the new Judicial Performance Commission of Cook County. A project of the Chicago Appleseed Fund and the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and supported by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, the JPC is surveying lawyers who've appeared before judges up for retention this year with a view toward making retention recommendations for November.

A key difference in the methodology of the JPC surveys is that the JPC is contacting attorneys based on court appearances supplied by the Clerk of the Circuit Court. "In the evaluation process conducted by members of the Alliance and the Chicago Bar Association," John Flynn Rooney's Law Bulletin article explains, "judges up for retention provide names of lawyers who have appeared before them." The JPC is using an independent research team, separate from the Commission, to conduct its surveys. According to an explanatory letter issued by the JPC, more than 8,000 will be contacted in an online survey; another 1,400 lawyers will provide "interviews using structured interview instruments."

In response to an email inquiry from this blog, Elizabeth Monkus of the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice explained that the JPC is "attempting to identify or control for attorneys with a particular axe to grind, or a single bad experience in front of a judge in a couple ways."

First, Monkus said, survey respondents are asked about their own levels of experience and are also asked straight out how often they've appeared before the particular judge. In addition, Monkus said, "independent social science researchers are serving as consultants to the project, performing statistical analysis of the responses. Their analysis allows us to identify outlier responses and discover patterns in the responses. For instance, it may be that a judge rates very highly in the administrative capacity metric with attorneys that routinely appear in her courtroom, but rates very poorly on the same questions with attorneys who infrequently practice before her. Statistical analysis of the responses allows us to understand conflicting responses to survey questions and allows us to form a nuanced evaluation which accounts for the discrepancies."

Rooney's article mentions that the Chicago Council of Lawyers will also continue to participate in the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening and will issue independent ratings. Given the involvement of the CCL in setting up the Commission, I asked Monkus whether separate evaluations from the JPC and CCL might not be seen as a way for the CCL to exercise disproportionate influence over the retention process. In an email, Monkus responded, "No members of the Commission currently serve on the CCL board, nor has any member of the Commission been part of the CCL’s state judicial evaluation process." While representatives of the CCL "helped plan" the JPC, Monkus said that Chicago Appleseed, which is providing "administrative support" for the JPC, is independent of the CCL, although Chicago Appleseed and the CCL "do work together on systemic reform projects."

It should also be noted that two of the JPC's 17 members, Leonard Jay Schrager, a former dean of the John Marshall Law School, and Roy E. Hofer, a partner with Brinks, Hofer, Gilson & Lione in Chicago, are former presidents of the Chicago Bar Association. (For a complete list of Commission members, see this post on page two.) The CBA is also expected to issue separate recommendations on judicial retention hopefuls.

The JPC hopes to complete its surveys and evaluations and issue its retention recommendations by early November. This June 29 post on the Chicago Appleseed blog solicits lawyer-volunteers to assist the JPC in its work. Interested persons will find contact information by following the link in the preceding sentence.

Retention Judges website in development

Judges running for retention will not be dependent solely on surveys of lawyers who appear before them to make their case for retention.

The Cook County Retention Judges website has been launched. Eventually, information for each of the 70 judges up for retention this year will be added, but, as of this writing, the site is still incomplete. If the last election cycle is any indication, some judges will put more effort into making their case for retention than others. This site will provide a place where judges can make their retention claims directly to the voters.

A link to this site has been added to the Sidebar.

ICJL to evaluate retention hopefuls as well

The Illinois Civil Justice League will survey all candidates for judicial office in Illinois and post candidates' responses and other relevant information on Illinois Judges.Net, the ICJL's judicial election website.

According to the July 8 ICJL News Update, Illinois judicial candidates, including all Cook County retention hopefuls, "will be invited to respond to an ICJL questionnaire and include information related to their background and philosophy. Candidate endorsements by various bar associations and newspapers will be included and candidates may provide links to their own websites."

More information on the ICJL surveys, the bar association retention evaluations, the JPC evaluation process, and on the Cook County Retention Judges' own website will be posted on For What It's Worth in the coming weeks.

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