March 15, 2001 Regular News Program makes it easier for lawyers to evaluate judges Program makes it easier for lawyers to evaluate judges The Florida Bar’s Judicial Evaluation Committee has approved a significant expansion of its circuit judge evaluation by allowing attorneys to directly receive and return evaluation forms. “We’ve been calling it the attorney participation initiative,” said JEC Chair Jennifer Coberly. “The impetus is to have the program be effective in its goal and to provide the judiciary with feedback. It’s important for reasons of judicial independence. “People want to feel there’s a meaningful evaluation system in place. We’ve tried to increase the participation as much as possible.” The circuit judge evaluation program began just over three years ago. Under the program, when judges send out a final order in a case to the lawyers, they can include an evaluation form. The lawyers can fill out the form, make comments and return it to The Florida Bar. When a sufficient number of forms for an individual judge have been accumulated, the forms are mailed to the judge for review. The judge, at his or her option, can review the forms with the chief circuit judge, but the contents are otherwise confidential. In the new program, Coberly said, lawyers can get the form on their own, fill it out, and return it to the Bar. “When there’s a final order of any kind, we would like the lawyers to directly access the evaluation form and fill it out,” she said. Coberly said the committee embarked on the new program because it wants to boost participation in the evaluation process. “The judges [who use the evaluation process] are happy with it and the attorneys [who use the process] are happy with it,” she said. “The problem is getting enough participation. “A lot of attorneys don’t know this program is available. We want to give them the opportunity.” To get a form, go to the Bar’s website at www.FLABAR.org, and click on Organization. Under the Committees listing, choose Standing, and then select the Judicial Evaluation Committee. There are links in the text to both the trial and appellate judicial evaluation forms, as well as instructions for filling out the forms. (Use your browser’s print command to print out the form.) Those without Internet access can obtain the forms from Doris Maffei, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson Street, Tallahassee 32399, or by calling Maffei at 850/561-5670. Completed forms should be placed in an unmarked envelope (Maffei noted that some lawyers have enclosed the forms in envelopes with their firms’ addresses). The envelope should state the judge’s name and his or her circuit or county and be addressed as follows: c/o Judicial Evaluation Committee, P.O. Box 11067, Tallahassee 32302-3067. (See illustration) Coberly said lawyers should also use care in filling out the form so that they do not include anything that identifies them or the case. Forms are held until several are collected and then forwarded to the judge, which further helps guarantee anonymity for participating attorneys. “We really want this to work and be an effective way to let judges know how they’re doing,” Coberly said.