Judges get report cards from attorneys

Feb. 05, 2014 @ 01:13 PM

The N.C. Bar Association has released its survey that rates judges in North Carolina, and Durham’s District Court judges’ report cards ranged from nearly excellent to just below average.

The judicial performance evaluation survey asked attorneys across the state to rate judges up for election this year using a scale of 5 (excellent), 4 (good), 3 (average), 2 (below average) and 1 (poor).

Six of Durham’s seven District Court judges are up for election this year.

Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey rated highest among the six, with an overall performance of 4.31.

Second from the top were Jim Hill and Brian Wilks, each with 4.19 ratings, followed by Doretta Walker at 3.42, Pat Evans at 3.19 and Nancy Gordon at 2.75.

The survey asked attorneys to evaluate judges’ performance in six categories:

  • Integrity and impartiality.
  • Legal ability.
  • Professionalism.
  • Communication.
  • Administrative skills.
  • Overall skills.

A total of 120 judges - 17 in Superior Court and 103 in District Court - are included in the report. None of Durham’s four Superior Court judges are in the survey because they aren’t up for election this year.

In an interview Tuesday, Morey said she believes the survey can help judges improve their performance.

“I think it’s always helpful to have an evaluation of professionals and others,” she said. “I think judges need feedback, and we can always look to see how we can improve. I think it’s a helpful tool, but I don’t think it’s definitive.”

Morey said judges are often like referees.

“You can always have lawyers on any particular day who are upset because their case didn’t go as well as they wanted,” she said. “You’re kind of a referee in a ballgame, and depending on how the pitch is thrown and the strikes are called, you may like or not like the judge.”

“But I think judges need to be held accountable,” Morey said. “You hope it’s not a personality contest. You hope it’s a fair assessment.”

Gordon said she was disappointed by the survey results.

“This is a survey from lawyers,” she said. “The attorneys who have appeared before me have had opportunities in the past to provide feedback to me about my job performance. When I get constructive criticism, I take it very seriously.”

Gordon said she works in “some of the most contentious courtrooms that we have – family courts. I demand a lot from the attorneys. I demand that they be prepared. I don’t do that to be mean to them; I do that because if they’re prepared, I get the best information to make the best decisions about the cases in my courtroom.”

Gordon said she’s had no complaints filed with the Judicial Standards Commission, which hears grievances against judges, and has never had a case overturned by the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The survey was sent to about 20,000 lawyers in the state, but the number who responded varied from judge to judge.

A second survey will be conducted in March when attorneys will evaluate Superior and District Court judges appointed after March 31, 2013, whose terms expire this year, and lawyers who file for election to the bench this year.

Results will be released in April. Both reports will be compiled in an online voter’s guide that will be posted at electncjudges.org