Friday, December 19, 2008

On government officials

The NYT opines here that prosecutors should say less about the Illinois governor.

Reports here and here say the Page County sheriff gets to keep his title for now.

In Norfolk, a lawsuit has been filed to bar the vice mayor from serving as chief deputy treasurer, claiming there is some conflict of interest.

On coal

Coal is my worst nightmare, says the next Energy Secretary.

In Kansas, they are litigating over a coal power plant.

In Surry, there is opposition to a proposed coal power plant.

In Abingdon, they are getting a Clean Coal and Natural Gas Energy Center.

In West Virginia, there is skepticism about a $3 billion coal to gas plant.

Some lending institutions are talking about divesting from coal, as if it were the new apartheid.

Thomas Jones recollects his parents' working in the mines.

In Harrisonburg, it's hard to get a lump of coal.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More on dissemination of judicial evaluation data

"With respect to dissemination of information on performance evaluation, two lessons can be drawn. First, transparency about the evaluation process and specific evaluation results benefits both the public and the judiciary. The public benefits because it is able to develop an appreciation for the role of the courts beyond the outcome-based information it is likely to receive from the mainstream media or special interest groups, and can make more informed votes in judicial elections. The courts benefit because increased public awareness of the proper modes of judicial measurement fosters an appreciation for the challenges judges face, as well as the high caliber of judges in the community. It also makes judicial elections less likely to be decided by specific issues or case outcomes, and ultimately creates a public atmosphere more accepting of judicial independence.

The second lesson is that broad dissemination is almost always preferable to limited dissemination. Making information about individual judges available to the public allows ordinary citizens to become more familiar with the judges who serve them, and to appreciate the individual strengths and weaknesses of each judge. Good judges rightly will be praised, and weaker judges will feel appropriate pressure to improve their performance. More importantly, broad dissemination allows the public to evaluate judges on neutral, relevant criteria, rather than having to rely on reports about specific case outcomes. Even summary information about the state of the judiciary as a whole assists the public in understanding the relevant metrics for measuring judicial performance. By contrast, maintaining the confidentiality of performance evaluations fails to educate the public about appropriate measurements, allows less reliable or less comprehensive surveys to fill the void (with potentially unwelcome results), and arouses public suspicion about the real quality of the judiciary.

There is some question as to whether transparency can hinder the self-improvement function of JPE. Some judges, particularly those new to the bench, may benefit from a confidential evaluation early in their service, to allow them privately to improve upon areas of weakness. There may be other occasions in which a judge’s improvement on the bench may be promoted by keeping his individual evaluation confidential. Too much confidentiality, however, may provide less incentive for judges to improve; release of information to the public is a great motivator. Therefore, even if evaluations are occasionally kept confidential, more often than not they should be made publicly available. All states should develop a dissemination strategy that maximizes transparency without sabotaging self-improvement."

Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, "Shared Expectations: Judicial Accountability in Context," accessed via the National Center for State Courts Judicial Performance Evaluation Resource Guide.

What I get out of this and like articles is that judicial evaluation when based on the proper criteria should get the widest-possible distribution to promote a more rational and principled discussion of retention issues, as opposed to some of the nonsense we have observed from time to time. The article suggests that judicial independence is most threatened when decisions about judges are made in the absence of informed debate.

In other words, the only people who have to worry about sunlight on these judicial evaluations are the judges whose evaluations are bad and legislators who ignore what the evaluations say. And so, the question arises, why wouldn't the Virginia Supreme Court want the General Assembly to be both empowered - and constrained - in its evaluation of judges by objective information of the best and most relevant kind - in a way that the public also can decide whether the legislators are doing the right thing? One would expect that failure to disseminate information about bad judges mostly has the effect of protecting the employment of bad judges, to the detriment of everyone else. Dissemination of positive information about good judges would make it harder for legislators to fail to keep them.

Jefferson might have agreed that what Justice Brandeis wrote in Whitney v. California - that the remedy for bad speech is more speech - applies as well to judges, but then again he might have said that Federalist idiot John Marshall sucks and we need to run him off the first chance we get.

The end of the Sierra Club case

Here is Judge Williams' opinion at the end of the Sierra Club case.

And, we won the case, so I guess there nothing more to be said.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On evaluating judges


Part of what it says is this:

"Guideline 3-4. When judicial evaluations are used to inform decision makers regarding the continuation of judges in office, results should be made readily available to those responsible for continuation decisions, including voters, governors, legislatures, and commissions.
-4.1. Those responsible for reappointing, reelecting, or retaining judges should be provided with objective summaries of evaluation results for each judge and an explanation of how to interpret the results.
-4.2. If evaluation results are provided to an individual or entity responsible for continuation decisions, and those results include assessments of a judge’s overall performance or recommendations as to whether a judge should be continued in office, judges should have an opportunity to review and respond to the evaluation report before it is disseminated.
-4.3. If evaluation results are publicly disseminated, and those results include assessments of a judge’s overall performance or recommendations as to whether a judge should continued in office, judges should have an opportunity to review, respond, and meet with members of the evaluation body before the results are made public."

Something else the paper says is this:

"Judicial evaluations based on appropriate criteria and reliable and valid methodology . . . pose no threat to the independence of the judges being evaluated."

The VLW Blog has this post which suggests the making of a constitutional crisis, as the Chief Justice and the General Assembly dicker over the limitations on the use of judicial evaluations in Virginia. Under Va. Code 17.1-100, "The Supreme Court, by rule, shall establish and maintain a judicial performance evaluation program that will provide a self-improvement mechanism for judges and a source of information for the reelection process. By September 1 of each year, the Supreme Court, or its designee, shall transmit a report of the evaluation in the final year of the term of each justice and judge whose term expires during the next session of the General Assembly to the Chairmen of the House and Senate Committees for Courts of Justice."

I have filled out a bunch of these judicial evaluation forms, including most of the circuit court judges in the 28th, 29th, and 30th circuits. If the General Assembly can't use them, then what a waste - maybe I should just start throwing them in the trash.