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71 Judicature 48 (1987-1988)
Acting Responsibly: Journalists and Judicial Performance Surveys

handle is hein.journals/judica71 and id is 50 raw text is: Although bar associations are usually the ones to conduct judicial evaluation surveys,
there is no reason the media, in an effort to inform and educate the public, cannot do so
just as well. The Shreveport Journal's surveys are a case in point.
by Norman A. Dolch and Norman W. Provizer

C loaked in the priestly black
robes of symbol and masked by
the technical jargon of profes-
sional practice, judges often ap-
pear to work in a world quite separate-
though never truly divorced-from pub-
lic scrutiny. Even at the state level, where
the vast majority of judges are subject to
some variant of the electoral process,
judicial selection generally retains a spe-
cial, shadow-like quality that sets it apart
from the more overtly political branches
of government. Judicial elections, in
short, tend to be low-keyed, low-turnout
and low-information affairs in which few
people are turned out of office.'
There is, of course, an ongoing (and
perhaps unresolvable) debate concerning
the accountability of judges in a demo-
cratic society. For courts and the judges
who sit at their helms, the values of neu-
tral competence, institutional integrity
and autonomy connected to the rule of
law offer legitimate counterweights to
the idea of democratic accountability and
its companion concepts of representa-
tiveness and responsiveness. This debate,
however, has not prevented bar associa-
tions from entering the arena of judging
judges. According to a survey published
in 1977, nearly 50 per cent of local bar
associations and close to 40 per cent of
state associations conducted judicial per-
formance polls, with local organizations

giving such efforts a high-priority rat-
ing.2 Belonging, as they do, to the same
profession as judges, lawyers have been
viewed as the most logical source of
information on the judiciary. Yet bar
associations are not the only mechanisms
that exist to gather the judgments of law-
yers on judicial performance.
In 1980 and again in 1984, the after-
noon newspaper in Shreveport, Louisi-
ana, conducted its own judicial perfor-
mance surveys, focusing on the state
district court. If one accepts the proposi-
tion that the press should serve the politi-
cal system by generating information,
discussion, and debate on public affairs
by enlightening the public so as to make
it capable of self-government,' then
media involvement as a data-gatherer
and information-provider on judicial per-
formance is an activity that can serve a
useful purpose, especially when bar asso-
ciations exhibit a reluctance to directly
enter the fray, as was the case in Shreve-
port. The local bar association (lid not
want to become politically involved-it
was concerned with rocking the judicial
boat and possibly arousing the ire of
judges-therefore it refused to cooperate
in the initial survey in any way. By the
time of the second survey, the association,
while declining to co-sponsor the activ-
ity, did provide the newspaper with a
membership list and urged its members

to complete the survey. The association
further stated in 1984 that in the future it
would conduct its own judicial surveys
with the results released to the media. But
that interest, clearly stimulated by the
newspaper's effort, seemed to wane rap-
idly and to date the local bar association
has failed to conduct such a survey.
McKnigh t, Schaefer and Johnson have,
in this regard, proposed that if the bar
assumed a more concerned role in in-
forming the public about judicial can-
didates, our elective system might func-
tion more effectively....    One of the
I. See, for example, Neubauer, AMERICAS
(North Scituate, MA: Duxbury Press, 1979); Jacob,
JUSTICE IN AMERICA, 3rd Edition 113-'t (Boston:
Little, Brown, 1978); and Abraham, 'IE JUDICIAl.
PROCESS, 4th Edition 35 (New York: Oxford Univer-
sicy Press, 1980).
2. Guterman and Meidinge, IN T  E OPINION OF
THlE BAR 20-22 (Chicago: The Atnerican Judicature
Society, 1977). A study published in 1981 estimates
that some 100 bar associations conduct judicial
polls (Slonim, Bar Association Judicial Polls: Do
They Make a Difference?, 6 BAR LEADER 18 (1981)).
Also see, Flanders, Evaluating judges: how should
the bar do it, 61 JUDICATURE 304 (1978); Philips,
(New York: InstituIte of Judicial Administration,
(Chicago: American Bar Foundation, 1977).
3. Peterson, The Social Responsibility Theory
in Siebert et. al., FOUR TIIEORIES OF TIlE PRESS
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956). Other
newspapers, from the Baltimore Sun to the Great
Falls (Montana) Tribune, have followed this path
regarding judicial surveys with inixed results.
4. McKnight, Schaeffer and Johnson, Choosing
judges: do the voters know what they're doing, 62
JUDICATURE 98 (1978).

48 Judicature  Volume 71, Number 1 June-July, 1987

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