Contrary to what some legislators and lawyers think, the fact that voters select most Nevada judges isn’t a problem. The problem is a lack of information about judges and judicial candidates, their performance and their qualifications.
For more than a decade, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has provided the Southern Nevada electorate with the only evaluations of sitting judges, the biennial “Judging the Judges” survey. The evaluations are based on questionnaires completed by attorneys who practice in front of Municipal, Justice, Family, District and Supreme Court jurists.
With the exception of Supreme Court justice evaluations, the survey evaluates only Clark County judges. The Washoe County Bar Association evaluates judges in the Reno area.
The evaluations are indispensable for voters who wish to be informed about their choices before going to the polls. But voters certainly could use more performance-specific information in selecting the people who carry out the duties of the most powerful branch of government.
The Supreme Court’s Article 6 Commission is nearly ready to launch a new judicial performance evaluation program to augment the information provided by existing surveys.
Besides attorneys, the commission’s program will seek the input of other judges, court staff, jurors and litigants. The surveys will ask participants to evaluate judges based on legal knowledge, integrity, communication skills, temperament and administrative performance, among other qualities.
“The more information you have, the better,” said Supreme Court Justice Ron Parraguirre, who represents the high court on the Article 6 Commission. “There may be aspects that the lawyers never see.”
The Legislature is considering putting before voters a plan that would give the power of selecting judges to a panel of legal experts and the governor, with the electorate eventually deciding whether to retain that judge or have the insiders put someone else inside the black robe.
But if voters are given the kind and quantity of information such a selection committee would receive, there’s no reason to move the process from the polls to a private back room.
The Article 6 Commission’s plan is a welcome addition to the campaign process — one that should help quell the political elites’ desire to sidestep the will of voters.