RD638 - Judicial Performance Evaluation Program Report to the General Assembly of Virginia – 2023
Please note that each judge’s evaluation is unique and is not directly comparable to other judges’ evaluation reports. Judges have had at least one interim performance evaluation for self-improvement purposes. The interim evaluation is confidential and “shall not be disclosed" by the judge. Va. Code § 17.1-100(C).
Data obtained through the Judicial Performance Evaluation surveys may be subject to biases that can be difficult or impossible to measure. Aside from real differences in judicial performance, analyses have shown that survey responses may be influenced by the evaluators’ biases related to the judge’s race, ethnicity, and/or gender. The survey instruments were modified in 2016 to minimize such biases, but personal biases among the evaluators may remain.
Also, ratings of judges in different jurisdictions may not be truly comparable because of differences in the respondents to the surveys, the numbers or types of cases heard in different jurisdictions, or other unique contextual factors. Statistical comparisons by jurisdiction can be influenced by small numbers of judges being evaluated, real differences seen in ratings of judges who are low or high outliers, the particular mix of judges who are up for evaluation in the year, and unique characteristics of the jurisdictions themselves.
Therefore, as the process of judicial evaluation, including the survey instrument, was not designed to make comparisons, attempting to make comparisons among judges should be avoided.
Below are factors you may wish to consider when reviewing the evaluations.
• All judges were evaluated by attorneys and other respondent groups, which vary by the type of court. All responses are aggregated in the reports, except for responses in the Court of Appeals’ report and juror responses in the circuit court reports.
o Judges at all trial court levels were also evaluated by bailiffs and court reporters who served in their courtrooms. Some judges had few of these respondents; others had several. A few judges did not have any bailiffs surveyed because the local sheriff did not provide contact information for bailiffs. Some judges had no court reporters surveyed because the JPE Program was not able to identify any court reporters who worked in the judge’s courtroom.
o Circuit court judges were evaluated by jurors; however, some judges did not receive any juror survey responses -- either because no jury trials were conducted during the relevant period, or the jurors chose not to respond. Juror responses are shown separately from all other respondent groups.
o Circuit court judges were also evaluated by in-court clerk’s office staff. There was variability in numbers of staff surveyed because of the way the clerks’ offices are managed. A few clerks did not provide any staff contact information.
o The Court of Appeals judge was evaluated by circuit court judges on opinion writing. An Appellate Opinion Review Committee also reviewed at least four opinions written by the evaluated judge in the last three years.
• For appellate and circuit court judges, respondents are asked to rate the judge based on experiences with the judge during the previous three years. For district court judges, respondents are asked to rate the judge based on experiences with the judge during the previous 12 months.
• Efforts are made to survey a large number of individuals; however, this is a voluntary process. While the responses received are not necessarily representative of all potential respondents, each judge’s report accurately reflects the responses actually received for that judge.
• Judges receive evaluations from attorneys who have appeared before or observed the specific judge. Thus, even judges within a single circuit or district may be evaluated by different attorneys, and there will be individual differences in how attorneys rate judges. Also, there may be regional differences in how groups of attorneys tend to rate judges.
• The number of attorneys surveyed is not uniform. Generally, there are fewer attorneys to survey for judges who preside in rural areas. Each judge’s report lists how many total surveys were completed for that judge.
• For judges who have a very high number of potential attorney respondents, only a sample of those respondents is surveyed (approximately 250). For judges in more rural jurisdictions, all identified eligible attorneys may be surveyed if there are fewer than 250 potential respondents identified.
• In order to be eligible to complete an evaluation, an attorney must have appeared before or observed the evaluated judge at least one time in the applicable time period.
• Judges preside in different environments.
o Some sit every day in one location; others travel to several different courts during the week.
o Judges in different districts or circuits may hear very different types of cases. Even within a single district or circuit, some judges may hear a certain type of case (i.e., criminal) more than other judges do.