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EDITORIAL: Voters benefit from R-J’s biennial ‘Judging the Judges’ survey

When elections come around, there’s no shortage of information available for high-profile positions, particularly at the federal level, with the deluge of advertisements for presidential candidates and congressional office seekers. Closer to home, statewide offices such as the governorship, attorney general and Senate/Assembly contests gain sufficient attention. But one area that tends to get overlooked is judges. Voters often don’t have the information they need to cast an informed ballot.

Since 1992, the Review-Journal has made extensive efforts to fill that void with its “Judging the Judges” biennial series. The 2013 survey’s results and accompanying articles and contributions by the Review-Journal’s Carri Geer Thevenot, Ed Vogel, Francis McCabe, Brian Haynes and Lisa Kim Bach were published over the past four days and can be found at www.reviewjournal.com. As reported Sunday by Ms. Geer Thevenot, the Judicial Performance Evaluation is nothing if not thorough, with 902 Clark County lawyers — up from 872 in 2011 — completing the evaluation. The survey rated Nevada Supreme Court justices, Clark County district judges, Clark County Family Court judges, and justices of the peace and municipal judges in Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas.

The Review-Journal contracted with Downey Research Consultants, a social research consulting firm in Northern Nevada, to conduct the survey online.

“Over the years, the survey has been regarded as a thorough and objective analysis of judicial performance,” Review-Journal Editor Michael Hengel said. “We think it is a helpful tool for voters who otherwise would have a tough task assessing the job judges do.”

In total, 90 judges were evaluated, with lawyers allowed to rate jurists on up to 12 traits believed to characterize good judges. In addition, Ms. Geer Thevenot noted, lawyers were asked whether they would recommend each judge for retention; for 12 of the judges rated, more than 50 percent of respondents said they would not recommend retention. In the 2011 survey, respondents recommended firing eight of 90 judges evaluated; six of those judges made repeat appearances on the 2013 “do not retain” list, while the other two have stepped down.

The timing of the survey’s release is important, as the formal filing period for 2014 judicial candidates begins Monday, with a June 10 primary election and a Nov. 4 general election. Judicial campaigns are seldom competitive, and they typically provide the electorate with little more than biographical information, with judges rarely divulging relevant information on issues of the day or how they would rule from the bench. The extensive survey provides voters with more insight into how jurists conduct themselves and treat those who enter their courtrooms, how well they apply the law and how hard they work to manage their caseloads.

The 902 lawyers who submitted evaluations — out of a total pool of 4,718 contacted last summer — and the aforementioned Review-Journal staffers have done the preliminary work of providing the data the electorate needs this year. Now it’s up to you, the voters, to digest that data and cast an informed vote that helps bring to the bench the best possible judges.

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