Judges evaluated before retention vote

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JEFFERSON CITY - An independent organization revealed its findings Thursday on the abilities of 49 judges throughout the state of Missouri. 

The Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee used input from jurors, lawyers and the judges themselves to evaluate how the government officials performed in court. 

"This is not a popularity contest," Dale Doerhoff, chair of the committee, said. "The idea is to give voters objective, merit-based knowledge." 

The decision then comes before Missourians, who will vote on judicial retention. Members of courts such as the Supreme Court of Missouri and the Missouri Court of Appeals are chosen in multiple steps. A judicial nominating committee sends the names of three applicants to the governor. He/she chooses one and then the judge serves until the next general election. The public has vote to retain them by at least 50 percent in order to serve the full term. 

Doerhoff said judges are "running against themselves" and their record. 

"Let’s say a judge is very smart and makes good rulings, but is discourteous," Doerhoff said. "Well people don't want a discourteous judge, so we can't discount that one. On the otherhand, you might have a very courteous judge that doesn't follow the law. You don't want that one either. So all of the factors are important, and we weigh them equally."

Judges on the Supreme Court of Missouri and the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern district, will serve terms of 12 years if they reach retention according to the Missouri Bar.

Larry Dessem is a law professor at the University of Missouri. He said the evaluations give a "360-degree view of the judges."

"When you live in a larger community, it's difficult for even lawyers to know all of the judges," he said. "This is a good way for the public to get to know them."

Philip H. Hess and James M. Dowd are judges within the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District. Richard B. Treitelman is up for retention at his post of the Supreme Court of Missouri. All three received a 100 percent recommendation, the highest possible. Hess said he's flattered to have the distinction. 

"To have that feedback is an honor," he said. "It means I'm doing my job correctly."

Dessem said only a "handful" of judges don't meet the requirements for retention.