State bar evaluates judges facing retention

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Aiming to help voters decide whether to retain certain judges this November, The Missouri Bar issued a report Tuesday summarizing evaluations of the jurists by lawyers and, in some instances, by jurors as well. Judges on the state Supreme Court, the three-district Court of Appeals and five circuit courts in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas are appointed and stand for retention periodically. Unlike elected judges, who are free to tout their qualifications to voters, those who face retention are barred from campaigning, making them question marks to voters. The Missouri Bar has worked to fill in the blanks about al judges by surveying lawyers who have appeared in their courtrooms. Most judges received recommendations to keep their black robes.

And in a pilot project this year, the Bar also asked people who had served on juries in St. Louis County to evaluate seven of the judges up for retention there. Generally, the jurors' evaluations were aligned with or more favorable than the lawyers' findings about the judges.

"The jurors' evaluations add an important point of view that should be considered by everyone who casts a judicial ballot," Missouri Bar president Douglas Copeland said in a statement. "Voters can put the jurors' ratings side by side with the lawyers' evaluations and have a complete picture of each judge's courtroom behavior and professional skills."

Lawyers ranked appellate judges on 14 criteria, including whether judges were fair to both sides of a case, were prepared for arguments and made the right decisions based on the law.

Trial court judges faced 16 criteria, such as whether they had control over the proceedings, issued decisions promptly and based their decisions on evidence and arguments.

Jurors were asked fewer questions, rating judges on such basics as whether a judge appeared fair, paid attention and spoke clearly.

The three Supreme Court judges up for a vote -- Stephen Limbaugh Jr., William Ray Price Jr. and Mary Rhodes Russell -- all received recommendations of 90 percent or higher that they keep their position.

Some lower court judges did not fare so well -- and one was even recommended not to stay on the job.

At the trial court level, 73 percent of lawyers surveyed said St. Louis County Associate Circuit Judge Judy Draper should not be retained. There were no juror evaluations.

About half of lawyers, but 96 percent of jurors, recommended the retention of St. Louis County Associate Circuit Judge Brenda Stith Loftin be retained.

On the Kansas City side, all judges were recommended to be retained.

Judge evaluations available at:

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