When Local Attorneys Judge the Judges

Judges hate the Dallas Bar Association's judicial evaluation polls, a semi-semi-tradition dating to 1975 that took a brief pause in '07, when judges managed to get the thing sidelined by grousing that the methodology was unfair and, besides, it weren't nothing but a popularity contest, so ... harrumph. But two years and a few tweaks later, the JEP returned in '09 -- at which point we had a lengthy back-and-forth with attorneys and judges about the merits of the poll at this late date.

Read it for the fine print. Or don't and just head here for a peek at the DBA's latest Judicial Evaluation Poll, which rates things like temperament, knowledge of the law and overall excellence and this year comes with various supporting docs -- such as a look at the methodology and a demographic breakdown of respondents, of which there were 1,254 out of the 10,060 members of the DBA.

Friend of Unfair Park Bill Holston's among those who did vote -- and he certainly fits the bill of the majority of those who filled out the paperwork. Which is to say: He's a white guy working in an office with two to five attorneys, and he's been practicing for more than 25 years. "Maybe the young lawyers aren't even in the custom of doing this," says Brother Bill. "Or maybe they don't think it's important."

Judges do, even if they say they don't.

And if they don't, they oughta -- right, Judge Carlos Cortez? Which is to say: More than half of the 441 attorneys who responded in Cortez's case said his overall performance "needs improvement," making him the sole civil district judge with a higher than 50 percent overall dissatisfaction ranking. On the flip side, Judges Martin Hoffman, Jim Jordan, Ken Molberg and Craig Smith all pulled 50 percent or higher in the atta-boy department.

"I think the results mean something," says Holston, who says attorneys were asked to confirm they'd been in front of the judge they're ranking so they don't just, you know, vote on reputation alone, because then it would be nothing more than a popularity contest. "And I've talked to judges who say they pay attention to the results. If a good judge gets a low vote on judicial temperament they pay attention -- or they should. They should ask themselves why. And my experience with bad judges is it makes them more upset."

Alicia Hernandez, director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, helps oversee the poll. And she says there's been no backlash since its return in '09. "Now, I could be forgetting ...," she says with a small laugh. "But, no, it's been pretty quiet."

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