Many states conduct periodic performance evaluations of their judges, either for internal education and improvement, or to educate voters in advance of judicial retention elections, or both. No state formally evaluates judicial candidates along the same criteria — a process I have called prospective performance evaluation — but the task is so important that local and state bar associations sometimes undertake it themselves.
The Philadelphia Bar Association recently unveiled their new evaluation process for judicial candidates, and it is impressively thorough — much more than this local news report suggests. The standards set forth by the Philly Bar are carefully done and well worth a review by voters and court observers alike.
I reported last week on Richard Cooke, a newly elected Cook County judge who refused to take his initial assignment at traffic court — a way station at which almost every new Chicago judge cuts his or her teeth. Judge Cooke has now resigned his judgeship.
Courts, like most organizations, place certain requirements on membership. The court system itself may not be able to choose its members (who are elected by the public), but it can — and sensibly does — seek to train and socialize them into the basics of organizational life. For whatever reason, Judge Cooke tried to circumvent at least part of that socialization process, to the detriment of both him and the court system.
Those who are truly concerned about money and politics* might take notice of this past weekend’s fundraiser for Jacob Gold, “the dean of Democratic District Leaders,” in Brooklyn. The fundraiser brought out “a small army of attorneys,” all of whom hoped to wow the party bosses and win one of a handful endorsements for the bench in the coming election.
I have previously noted the rather nauseating control that party bosses maintain over the selection of New York’s trial judges. Events like this offer little solace for the prospect of an impartial and independent judiciary. New Yorkers deserve much better.
* As opposed to those who simply and mindlessly rant about Citizens United.
IP Watchdog has an excellent breakdown. And this part of the analysis seems spot on:
Past litigation reports from Lex Machina have pointed to the fact that volatility in patent case filings are typically triggered by changes to the patent system, or even just proposed changes. Spikes in patent litigation have closely preceded changes like the abrogation of Form 18 to plead patent infringement in district court as well as the enactment of provisions of the America Invents Act. Given the fact that the debate on patent reform isn’t currently reverberating in Congress the way it has in recent years, it’s possible that the recent downturn in high-volume plaintiff filings is due to calmer waters in the patent system. The next foreseeable change to the U.S. patent system stem from the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands, so it will be interesting to see if the court’s ruling in that case creates any similar volatility in case filings.
Earlier this year, the Kansas District Judges Association proposed a bill that would shield the names of jurors from the public. The bill passed both houses of the Kansas legislature. But the Kansas Press Association challenged the bill before a final vote could be taken, arguing that the state courts had obligations of transparency, and that hiding the identity of jurors made it more difficult to hold the justice system accountable. The judges’ association agreed, and reached a compromise with the press association that would make jurors’ names and addresses available, but not other information about them. The changes are expected to be worked out in legislative conference committee.
This is a nice example of the courts and the press recognizing the difficulty of balancing individual privacy and public duty in the modern age, and working together to address the problem. There is no simple answer, and while a handful of states do shield the identity of jurors completely, the Kansas Press Association is correct that public obligations like jury duty require a degree of public accountability. If we want to maintain a public system of dispute resolution, every member of the public needs to take ownership of it in an appropriate way.
The month in a nutshell: judicial selection drama continues, and court systems work to improve access and efficiency even as individual judges make headlines for the wrong reasons
After the hurly-burly of Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings in March, one might have hoped for a calmer month of April on the judicial selection front. But high-profile stories continued at both the federal and state level. President Trump started to turn his attention to the more than 100 vacancies in the federal district and appellate courts, but unwisely rejected pre-selection vetting of nominees from the American Bar Association. The President also left open whether he would consider suggested judicial nominees coming from bipartisan screening committees — an opportunity to foster some bipartisan agreement and smooth the nomination process for lower federal judges.
States which select judges through contested elections also experienced ongoing tumult, in the form of legislation and litigation. And too many judges made the news for behaving unprofessionally. Continue reading “What just happened? April 2017 roundup”