Article, 1021 UTBJ, Vol. 34, No. 5. 17

Authorby The Honorable Christine Durham
PositionVol. 34 5 Pg. 17

Article, Judicial Performance Evaluation in Utah: Increasing Objectivity and Transparency

Vol. 34 No. 5 Pg. 17

Utah Bar Journal

October, 2021

September, 2021

by The Honorable Christine Durham

As both a long-term participant in judicial performance evaluation and a relative newcomer to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), I have seen a lot and, especially recently, learned a lot. When Utah's current version of the Judicial Council (Council) came into existence (after constitutional revisions of Article VHI took place in the mid-1980s), it undertook formal evaluations of judges. At the time, there was limited research on the evaluation process, and the Council relied largely on surveys and self-reporting. The entire process was managed by the Council with the support of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Gradually, the review standards incorporated elements of the ABA model established in 1985. Notably, the entire enterprise was conducted entirely within the judicial branch.

That changed after the Utah Legislature created a task force to study performance evaluation, relying on the work of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. As a result, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission Act (Act) passed in 2008. For the first time, evaluation of Utah's judges and sharing of public information for retention purposes were moved outside the judicial branch to an independent body. The legislature also provided funding for professional staff, survey development, and research (funding that had not existed for the program run by the Council). The shift began an era in which Utah, already an early adapter in judicial performance evaluation, became one of the national leaders in creating best practices and responding to new research and thinking. In 2014, for example, Utah was cited as having "pioneered the incorporation of procedural justice as a dimension on which judges should be evaluated as part of an official program." David B. Rottman & Tom R. Tyler, Thinking about Judges and Judicial Performance: Perspective of the Public and Court Users, 4 Onati Socio-Legal Series 1046,1058 (2014). The article also noted at the time that "the Utah Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission... [is] unique among such state commissions in being independent from the judiciary." Id. at 1059.

In more recent years, in addition to expanding performance...

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