Judicial Performance Evaluation

Resource Guide

While the judiciary serves as an independent branch of government, our democratic system requires some degree of citizen oversight and accountability from all branches of government. Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) programs are one mechanism by which the judiciary seeks to strike a balance between independence and accountability. These programs are used to inform (a)  the voting public in states with retention elections, (b) individual judges for self-improvement, and (c) administrative decisions regarding judicial assignment and retention. Most JPE programs make use of performance evaluation surveys based on the popular ABA model that are most often completed by attorneys and court staff. More recently, concerns that these surveys may be systematically biased against female and minority judges have been raised (see “Bias in JPEs,” below). The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) offers technical assistance to states interested in developing new or refining existing judicial performance evaluation surveys in light of this evidence.

Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.

Featured Links

Judicial Performance Evaluation (Table 10).

This table includes information on the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission of the fifty states in 2004.


Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. Judicial Performance Evaluation in the States.

This IAALS site explains that in 17 states and the District of Columbia, there is an official program for evaluating judicial performance. In 7 states, performance evaluation results are provided to voters for use in retention elections. In 3 states and the District of Columbia, performance evaluation results are provided to those responsible for reappointing judges. In 2 states, summary performance evaluation results are provided to the public to enhance confidence in the courts. In 5 states, performance evaluations are provided only to individual judges for the purpose of self-improvement.

The Bench Speaks on Judicial Performance Evaluation: A Survey of Colorado Judges. (March 2009). University of Denver, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System This survey is the first part of a multi-stage study concerning the effectiveness of Judicial Performance Evaluation in Colorado. It was designed to elicit feedback from sitting Colorado judges regarding the extent to which the program provides them with useful feedback that can be used for professional self-improvement, and to determine whether the existence of Judicial Performance Evaluation has had any effect on judicial independence and accountability.
Greenstein, Marla, Daniel Hall, and Jane Howell. Improving the Judiciary through Performance Evaluation. (2001).

The article discusses the use of judicial performance evaluations as a method to ensure that judges are competent and free from bias.

Esterling, Kevin M., and Kate Sampson. Judicial Retention Evaluation Programs in Four States: A Report with Recommendations. (1998). Chicago: American Judicature Society Only the first few pages of this study are relevant to the topic of JPEs. Page xiv contains a detailed description on how JPEs work. 
Justice System Journal Articles on Judicial Performance Evaluation. NCSC’s Justice System Journal (JSJ) was first published by the Institute for Court Management in 1974 and is the only refereed, scholarly journal devoted to the topic of judicial administration, broadly understood.
The American Judicature Society . This site contains information on judicial conduct and evaluation.  The Judicial Conduct Reporter Index site includes such topics as advisory opinions, complaint disposition survey, new codes of judicial conduct, and information on judicial sanctions.


Black Letter Guidelines for the Evaluation of Judicial Performance . (February 2005). American Bar Association The document provides a list of categories that should be investigated when evaluating the performance of judges: goals of the program, uses of the program, dissemination of the data from the evaluations, administration and support, criteria of the evaluation, and methodology. Users of this resource should be aware that recent research has raised significant concerns about gender and racial bias in results from JPE surveys based on this model. Recent studies have shown that these types of surveys disadvantage female and minority judges.
Transparent Courthouse: A Blueprint for Judicial Performance Evaluation. (2006). University of Denver, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System This resource can be used to help courts design a program to improve accountability through judicial performance evaluation.  The book includes basic tenets and values inherent in such programs, a checklist to guide those starting program, benchmarks, sample statutes and court orders, and model surveys. Please note that the IAALS (2012) publication above supercedes this resource as it recognizes the potential for bias in surveys following the popular ABA model.

Bias in JPEs

Elek, Jennifer K., et al. Judicial Performance Evaluation: Steps to Improve Survey Process and Measurement.

Judicature (2012). Recent criticisms leveled against JPE programs and supported by preliminary empirical evidence portray JPE surveys based on the popular ABA model as systematically biased against minority and women judges. To provide states with some guidance in this effort, this article reviews several fundamental shortcomings common to state and model JPE surveys in the U.S. and offers some concrete steps for improvement in key areas.

Knowlton, Natalie and Malia Reddick. Leveling the Playing Field: Gender, Ethnicity, and Judicial Performance Evaluation. This study assessed whether there is empirical evidence that women and minority judges are evaluated less favorably than their Caucasian male colleagues. It found that judges in four states with longstanding judicial performance evaluation programs generally receive high marks from court users but that there are a few areas in which women and minority judges receive lower scores. It considered whether these differences are the result of implicit biases, and offers recommendations for minimizing the potential that such biases may come into play. This report also reviews the NCSC implicit bias work and the NCSC work with the Illinois JPE program, concluding that the Illinois JPE survey development process is a model process for other states.
Durham, Christine M. Gender and Professional Identity: Unexplored Issues in Judicial Performance Evaluation. (Spring 2000). The Judges` Journal 39, no. 2: 11 This article addresses gender bias when conducting JPEs.  According to the author, "about one-third of the women judges surveyed by the Colorado Supreme Court Task Force on Gender Bias in the Courts reported receiving less respect than male judges from lawyer and/or other judges."  The author believes that this bias impacts the judicial performance evaluations conducted upon female judges. (KF200 .A456)