Date July 2, 2001 Contact: Laura Kiernan
Public Information Officer
271-2646 x359

NEWS RELEASE

 

CONCORD—The Justices of the Supreme Court have for the first time adopted judicial performance standards that will be the basis for annual evaluation of individual members of the court.

In a report to Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Senate and House leaders, Chief Justice David A. Brock said the justices also have approved time standards that will be used at the end of each calendar year to measure the court’s performance in moving cases through the appellate process.

Starting in September, more than 200 judicial performance questionnaires will be distributed to attorneys and individuals who appear before the Supreme Court. Because the members of Supreme Court act together as a court, and not as individual judges, the questionnaire is designed to evaluate the overall appellate process. The justices will also complete individual self-evaluation forms each year.

The responses to the questionnaires, the self-evaluation forms and compliance with time standards will be reviewed at a meeting of the court each fall, Brock said in the report to the governor and lawmakers. In addition the individual members of the court will meet to evaluate each other’s performance.

The standards adopted by the Supreme Court set down fundamental criteria for judicial performance, including clear, thorough and complete decisions, fairness, courtesy and open-mindedness on the issues in court, and even-handed treatment of all participants.

The newly adopted performance standards also set time frames to be used to evaluate the operation of an appellate court. For example, the standards provide that a case should be scheduled for oral argument within 180 days after both sides have filed briefs and an opinion or final order in the case should be issued within 180 days after oral argument.

The Chief Justice in the report also reviewed the status of judicial evaluations in the Superior, District and Probate courts. Such procedures have been in place since 1987 but were revised and formalized by the Supreme Court in March as part of an ongoing effort to provide meaningful feedback to judges on their performance. The Chief Justice will report annually to the governor and legislature on the status of the judicial evaluation program.

The judicial evaluation program provides that judges will be reviewed once every three years by each court’s administrative judge. Currently, Superior Court Chief Justice Walter L. Murphy is evaluating nine of 25 Superior Court judges. The process includes review of any complaints received by the Judicial Conduct Committee that have been made public. Questionnaires have been distributed to a sample of attorneys, jurors, witnesses and court staff and are available to the public at the clerk’s office in each courthouse.

Responses are due by July 31 and Murphy expects the evaluation of the nine members of the court to be completed by October.

In the District Court, Chief Justice Edwin W. Kelly is currently evaluating 26 of the 70 sitting judges, associate and special judges assigned to that court. According to the District Court Administrative Office, 1,017 questionnaires were distributed on the first 21 judges evaluated and 62 percent were returned. The overall rating for those judges was "very good," according to the District Court Administrative Office.

The remaining District Court evaluations are expected to be completed by September.

Corrective action in the District Court focused on cutting down on waiting time for litigants, monitoring court punctuality, implementation of time and case flow management procedures, and administrative counseling on issues related to demeanor, Brock said in his report.

In the Probate Court, Administrative Justice John R. Maher recently completed a review, over three years, of all 10 sitting probate court judges. The one probate court judge evaluated this year, as part of the new three year system, received an average rating of "excellent" from respondents to the judicial evaluation questionnaires.