Deadline nears to rate judges

More than 700 lawyers in Southern Nevada had participated in the 2010 Judicial Evaluation Survey by Thursday morning, with four days left for others to evaluate judges before whom they appear.

Nancy Downey of Downey Research Associates, who conducts the survey for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, said the Web site where lawyers can rate judges will close at midnight Monday, ending for another two years this opportunity to tell judges anonymously what they're doing well and what they could do better.

Review-Journal editor Thomas Mitchell, who initiated the survey in 1992, urged lawyers in Southern Nevada to evaluate the judges with whom they are most familiar. He pointed out that the survey constitutes one of the few sources of feedback to judges from people with roughly equivalent legal training, the group which best understands the criteria on which judges should be judged.

"We have found from previous surveys that most judges actually appreciate the constructive feedback they receive ," Mitchell said. "So even if an attorney doesn't have time to thoroughly complete all the various questions, a quickly jotted comment addressed to a particular judge might make a significant difference."

Although the survey has spurred opposition to judges who scored poorly, that won't happen in 2010 because a newly established filing date for candidates has passed. Only a handful of incumbent judges drew opponents. Because of rotating terms, Mitchell noted, most judges are not up for re-election in any given survey year, will remain on the bench at least two more years and can improve their own service during that time by considering how they are perceived.

Regarding those who do face re-election, the survey gives voters an informed evaluation by local attorneys as to which judges should be retained or replaced.

The Review-Journal publishes the results in late spring . Past results can be viewed at the "Judging the Judges" link from the Review-Journal Web page,

Lawyers are expected to rate judges before whom they have recent and relevant experience. Because a given attorney typically appears before only a few judges, Downey estimates that a lawyer can typically rate those judges in about 10 minutes once he or she has logged in.

The Web address and access codes were mailed to each State Bar of Nevada member with a Clark County address. Upon request, Downey has provided duplicate instructions and codes to some lawyers. Because of the deadline, anyone who still needs instructions should request them by e-mail: nancy@downey Provide the name of the lawyer and the firm at which he or she practices in the message. For other questions, phone her at (702) 461-9571.

Besides rating judges, lawyers are asked in the 2010 survey whether they favor a pending proposal to modify the selection of judges, who are now popularly elected. Under the proposed system, all judges would initially be selected by a commission, as they are today only in the event of mid-term vacancies, but voters would periodically decide whether to retain them.