Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Commission provides non-partisan judge info

September 3, 2008

— Topeka - Kansas voters on Friday obtained access to detailed and relevant information about district and appellate judges and justices standing for retention on election ballots this November, the Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance said.

"For years, voters have been asked to vote on whether to retain judges without the benefit of non-partisan information about their performance," said Randy Hearrell, executive director of the commission and the Kansas Judicial Council. "The Legislature created the commission to provide information so voters can be better informed."

Kansas citizens and voters now are able to read individual evaluations of incumbent district judges, district magistrate judges, Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices who are subject to a retention election on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. The evaluations, available at www.kansasjudicialperformance.org, are based in part on surveys of people who had business with the courts.

The Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance, an appointed state body, reviewed all survey results along with other information and recommended that all judges and justices standing for retention this year be retained on the bench.

"Judges who are now standing for retention election have previously passed a rigorous review process regarding their qualifications for appointment to the bench," said Fred N. Six, a retired Kansas Supreme Court justice and a member of the commission. "Our commission reviewed the attorney and non-attorney survey results and other information about the performance of these merit-selected judges to reach our recommendations."

Another commissioner, Mike O'Neal, a state representative from Hutchinson for 24 years and chairman of the Kansas House Judiciary Committee, said the commission carefully studied and discussed the recommendation for each individual judge.

"In this initial year of implementation of the evaluation process passed by the Legislature in 2006, we've laid a strong foundation for an improved judiciary statewide," O'Neal said. "As the phase-in of the process continues in 2010 and thereafter, our state's judicial system will only continue to get stronger."

Richard F. Hayse, a Topeka attorney and chairman of the commission, said the 2008 evaluations represent the beginning of a long-range process.

"Data will be gathered over a four-year period, and judges' ratings in the future will be based on a rolling average of survey results," Hayse said.

The surveys of attorneys and non-attorneys ask respondents' opinions of a judge's overall legal ability, impartiality, temperament and communication skills, among other categories.

"The commission's report, referred to as the Kansas Judicial Report Card, is designed to give judges feedback from the public on judicial performance and to give voters information on which to base their votes on whether to retain appointed judges and justices," Hayse said.

Among those who completed confidential surveys are attorneys, litigants, witnesses, court staff, jurors, law enforcement personnel, probation officers, social services caseworkers, appellate-level judges, and other people who have appeared before or had professional contact with the judge being evaluated.

To assure fairness and independence, all surveys are conducted and tabulated by Talmey-Drake Research & Strategy Inc., a professional public opinion research firm based in Boulder, Colo. Individual surveys are confidential, and judges and justices don't know who returns the surveys. The process is funded through Kansas court fees, not taxpayer dollars.

The commission includes six non-lawyers; six others who are lawyers, including retired judges and justices; and a chairman, who is a lawyer. At least one non-lawyer commission member and at least one lawyer commission member live in each of the state's four congressional districts.

The commission is appointed by the Kansas Judicial Council, a body established by the Legislature in 1927 to conduct an ongoing study of the judicial branch of government and recommend justice administration improvement options to both the Legislature and the Kansas Supreme Court.

Hayse said the process would play a key role in maintaining judicial independence.

"Like all who serve the public, judges and justices must be accountable," Hayse said. "This system enhances accountability while preserving the judicial independence that is the greatest strength of our judicial system."

Area and statewide judges standing for retention election are: District 1 (Leavenworth and Jefferson counties) Martin Asher, Robert Bednar, Frederick Stewart and Gunnar Sundby; District 2 (Jackson, Jefferson, Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties), Blaine Carter, Michael Ireland, Gary Nafziger and Dennis Reiling; District 7 (Douglas County), Michael Malone, Paula Martin; Supreme Court, Lee Johnson and Eric Rosen; and Court of Appeals, Richard Greene, Steve Leben, Christel Marquardt and Joseph G. Pierron.

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