(Thomas Mitchell/4thst8.wordpress.com/) I’m glad to see the Review-Journal continued the biennial judicial survey, even though the paper apparently is so understaffed (or underexpertised) they had to contract with a reporter/editor they let go this past year in order to pull it off.
But A.D. Hopkins, who has been the ramrod for probably a majority of these survey projects since the paper began them in 1992, did his usual thorough and fair job with the capable assistance of several other reporters and the Cannon Survey Center at UNLV and Downey Research Associates. (A.D. and his entire special projects team was let go by the new management in 2011.)
The publication of the Judging the Judges results was moved earlier in the year — the paper used to publish close to May 1, Law Day, in each even-numbered election year, but the judges moved up the election filing date to January. It made sense to let voters and potential candidates know prior to filing which judges were deemed the best and worst by the attorneys who appear before them.
It is fairly uncommon for newspapers to be the driving force behind judicial evaluations, I first started doing such evaluations in the 1980s in Shreveport, La., for the afternoon Shreveport Journal, long since shuttered. We did the surveys in 1980 and 1984. The first time the Bar Association wanted nothing to do with us, but they warmed to the idea in 1984 and provided a list of members and encouraged participation.
The history in Las Vegas has been similar. The paper started out with cooperation of the local Bar but that has waxed and waned over the years with the perception of how well or how fairly the various projects were conducted. (A.D. wasn’t saddled with every one of them.)
As A.D. points out, the state initiated a pilot evaluation project to test evaluating judges by lawyers and other parties, including jurors and parties to civil suits. It was part of ballot Question 1, which would have replaced the current wide-open judicial elections with so-called merit selection and retention elections. The voters rejected the change and the evaluation idea has been in limbo since. The Review-Journal editorially opposed Question 1 and I voiced concerns in my column.
One of the big criticisms of the survey is that so few attorneys participate, only 19 percent this year. But a large number of attorneys are engaged in practices that involve contracts, wills and other paperwork that never require them to appear in court. The survey asks that attorneys only evaluate judges before whom they have appeared. Besides, the turnout in the 2010 municipal elections was only 19 percent and that was deemed valid.
The judicial evaluation is an important public service and an expensive one. Glad to see it was considered worth the expense for at least one more year. I will certainly consult its results when I go to vote, and so should you.
Even though some of the results will not appear in print until Monday, the entire project is online now.
(Mitchell is the former editor of the Review-Journal.)