Bryan Cohen Oct. 16, 2012, 6:47pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Seven states are taking advantage of broad-based and objective evaluations of incumbent judges' performance to determine who to vote for in the upcoming elections.

Utah, North Carolina, New Mexico, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska use a judicial performance evaluation program in which court users asses the temperament, impartiality, communication skills and legal ability of the judges with whom they have interacted. The results of the surveys are summarized and shared with voters to provide them with a voting recommendation.

"For more than three decades, the American Judicature Society has supported the use of judicial performance evaluation programs as a valuable informational tool for voters in judicial retention elections," said Seth S. Andersen, the executive director of the American Judicature Society. "Surveys and exit polling demonstrate that voters use JPE results to make better-informed decisions on judges standing for retention. The key is to ensure that evaluation results are disseminated widely and are readily available to voters."

Several groups issued a joint press release Tuesday about the evaluations. They are Justice at Stake, the AJS, the University of Denver and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

Judicial elections are usually low-information contests in which voters cast their ballots based on name recognition, party affiliation or ballot position rather than on experience and quality, the groups say. Judges are running in contestable elections in 32 states and standing in yes/no retention elections in 17 states in 2012.

A 2011 poll in Indiana found that two-thirds of respondents would find public performance evaluations for judges of great or some value. Approximately one-third of the people polled almost always skip voting for judges on the ballot. A 2012 poll in Minnesota found that three-quarters of respondents would support the creation of a balanced public performance evaluation commission to review the performance of judges and public the evaluation results.

"These polling results demonstrate that voters need more information to make informed decisions about the judges appearing on their ballots," said Malia Reddick, the director of the IAALS Quality Judges Initiative. "Judicial performance evaluation programs fill this void."

IAALS is a national, independent research center with the goal of continuously improving the culture and process of the civil justice system.

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