Date: July 11, 2003 Contact: Laura Kiernan
Court Information Officer
2002 Judicial Performance Evaluations Released
CONCORD—Performance evaluations now completed for more than 60 percent of the New Hampshire judiciary have given the judges an overall ranking of "very good" or higher on a variety of factors, including judicial management, temperament, preparation and objectivity.
In a report to Governor Craig Benson and legislative leaders, Chief Justice David A. Brock said the Supreme Court’s performance evaluation program, updated in 2001, allows for "heightened scrutiny" of state judges and supports improving a judge’s performance "to the high level rightfully expected by the public of New Hampshire’s judiciary."
Performance evaluation questionnaires were distributed to a sample of lawyers, jurors, witnesses and court staff and were available to the public. A complete copy of the 2002 Judicial Performance Evaluation Program report is available at www.courts.state.nh.us/press/index.html.
Judges in the Superior, District and Probate Courts have participated in performance evaluations since 1987. The procedures were changed and formalized by the Supreme Court in 2001, and, for the first time, an evaluation program was adopted for the Supreme Court.
Under the current program, trial court judges are evaluated at least once every three years by the administrative judge of their court who meets with them to discuss the questionnaire results as well as any additional information received about the judge. Each judge also fills out a self-evaluation form.
The Supreme Court received an overall performance ranking of "very good" from lawyers and parties whose cases were pending before the court in 2002, according to the report. The Supreme Court clerk’s office distributed 152 questionnaires to a sampling of parties and attorneys; 50 responses were received (about 33 percent) with an overall performance ranking of 2.0, compared to 1.9 in 2001. Participants evaluate the judges’ performances on a scale of one (excellent) through five (unsatisfactory).
Each justice completed a "self-evaluation" form that is used to evaluate one another, their performance as a court and how their performance could improve. Because the appellate court works as a group, the justices were not evaluated individually.
Following two annual evaluations, in 2001 and 2002, the Supreme Court Justices will now be evaluated every three years, the report said.
The Supreme Court clerk’s office also examined 902 cases disposed of in 2002 to evaluate the court’s performance against time standards for processing cases that were adopted in June 2001. The time standards are an average length of time considered reasonable for completion of a particular stage in the appellate process.
The court did not meet the time standards, averaged for all cases, in two of the five categories that were evaluated. The clerk’s office however noted that the sample included 141 cases filed prior to 2001, before the Supreme Court began a major effort to decrease the case backlog. The averages for the 761 cases that were filed in 2001 and 2002, and disposed of in 2002, were within the time standards in all five categories.
Nine of the 28 Superior Court judges who were evaluated in 2002 received an overall ranking of "very good" or 1.9 from persons who filled out a performance evaluation questionnaire. Court clerks distributed 60 questionnaires for each judge being evaluated to lawyers, litigants, court staff, jurors, witnesses and members of the public. A total of 314 questionnaires were returned in 2002, an 18 percent increase in participation compared to 2001, when nine Superior Court judges evaluated were also ranked overall as "very good."
One judge’s evaluation in 2002 was somewhat below the norm, the report said, and reflected concerns about the judge’s temperament and attentiveness, which the report described as "problem areas that the judge acknowledges." Chief Justice Walter L. Murphy, the administrative judge of the Superior Court, will provide continued monitoring of that judge’s behavior and make suggestions for modification in the judge’s conduct, the report said.
In 2003, nine more Superior Court judges will be evaluated. One judge will be reevaluated one year early as part of a remedial measure taken after that judge’s 2001 evaluation.
In the District Court, 20 of 70 judges were evaluated in 2002 and were given an overall performance ranking of 1.7 or "very good," compared to 2.0 for the district court judges evaluated in 2001. A total of 1,262 evaluation questionnaires were distributed with a response rate of 56 percent. Two of the 20 judges were reevaluated this year as part of a monitoring program set up after their 2001 evaluations and in both cases, the report said, "the reevaluations showed improvement."
Judge Edwin W. Kelly, the administrative judge of the District Court, will evaluate 20 additional judges this year.
In the Probate Court, Administrative Judge John R. Maher completed four performance evaluations. A total of 156 performance evaluation forms were distributed, with a response rate of 54 percent. The four probate court judges evaluated received an overall ranking of 1.8 or "very good," compared to 1.7 for the three judges evaluated in 2001. There are 10 probate court judges, one in each county.
Evaluation of the administrative judges, which will be conducted by Chief Justice Brock and two associate justices, will take place this year.
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