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JPEC is not a ‘political hit squad’

Most people in the workforce are familiar with periodic review of their performance by their employer. They are shown their weaknesses and given an opportunity to improve. Most know if they do not improve, or at least make a sincere effort to do so, they will likely be shown the door. Well, thanks to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), New Mexico judges are no different.

Richard C. Bosson

Richard C. Bosson

In over 20 years of conducting judicial performance evaluations of every metro, district and appellate judge in the state, including even the members of the Supreme Court, JPEC has issued a do-not-retain recommendation only 13 times, and voters have agreed seven times not to retain. Why so few? Likely because JPEC is both thorough and fair in its approach.

Evaluations are rendered twice, once at the midterm and again before retention. Every judge is made fully aware of job deficiencies, has input in developing a plan for improvement and the remainder of the term to demonstrate improvement before the second evaluation. …

Criticism can be hard to swallow. But the process is fair and objective, and it usually works. Most often, judges receiving a less-than-satisfactory evaluation at midterm show substantial effort at self-improvement thereafter. And that goes a long way toward regaining JPEC’s confidence and a subsequent vote to recommend retention. In fact, if a judge cannot persuade JPEC the second time around, it may well be because he or she has not even tried. And that’s not … what the people have a right to expect from judges. …

So who are these people on JPEC sitting in judgment of judges? Not politicians and not judges. The majority are not even lawyers. They come from all walks of life and all over the state. JPEC is nonpartisan and independent: its members come from both political parties. They are nominated, on a rotating basis, by both the majority and minority leaders of the Legislature, governor, chief justice of the Supreme Court and president of the New Mexico State Bar. They are volunteer citizens; we are indebted to them for their public service.

Finally, what are the criteria used to evaluate judges? The commission retains a private polling firm to conduct confidential surveys of a wide variety of people with knowledge of the judge in question. These range from other judges, attorneys who have appeared before the judge and court employees to jurors and law enforcement. The commission also looks to data showing case management ability, case backlog and time to resolution. Finally, the commission asks each judge to evaluate him/herself according to the same criteria. JPEC’s evaluation process follows standard scientific polling techniques to assure valid, reliable results.

Of course, JPEC is not perfect. … But a recent guest column in the (Nov. 28) Albuquerque Journal calling the commission a “political hit squad” really misses the mark. In truth, the commission is neither. And the use of such inflammatory language may score political points but is of little use for anything else.