By: Jeffrey Lapin
The Nebraska State Bar Association (NSBA) released its biennial evaluation of Nebraska judges. Nebraska attorneys anonymously rated both state and federal judges in a number of different categories. The attorneys completing the evaluations gave high marks to the majority of Nebraska judges and recommended that all but two judges should be retained on the bench.
HOW NEBRASKA JUDGES GET ON THE BENCH
Nebraska utilizes a “merit selection system” in appointing lawyers to become judges in Nebraska’s State Court. Nebraska’s State Constitution, Article V § 21, provides the procedure for how someone becomes a judge in any state court in Nebraska, including the Nebraska Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and district, county and juvenile courts. Whenever there is a vacancy or a new judgeship is created, a “judicial nominating commission” reviews applicants and provides the Governor a list of at least two nominees. Once presented with the list, the Governor has 60 days to make an appointment. If the Governor fails to do so, the appointment is made by the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court from the same list.
Each “judicial nominating commission” has eight voting members and a non-voting Chairperson, who is required to also be a member of the Nebraska Supreme Court. The voting members, all of which reside in the area where the judge shall serve: four attorneys, chosen by members of the Nebraska State Bar Association in the area; and four citizens appointed by the Governor. The Nebraska Constitution provides that not more than four voting members shall be of the same political party.
Nebraska’s system is called “merit selection” as the list of judicial nominees for the Governor to select from is selected by a commission. In addition, as no political party can have more than four voting members, the process should be non-partisan.
Most judges in the Federal Court are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate and can only be removed by impeachment.
JUDICIAL RETENTION IN NEBRASKA
Nebraska’s Constitution further provides that after a judge is first appointed, his or her name shall appear on the ballot in the general election three years after he or she is appointed. Members of the district in which the judge serves shall vote whether to retain him or her. All voters in the state get to decide whether to retain the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court. Provided that the judge is retained after first appearing on a ballot, he or she is subject to another retention vote every six years. As long as a majority of voters vote to retain the judge, he or she shall remain a judge until he or she retires.
NSBA EVALUATION PROCESS
The NSBA coordinates an evaluation of all judges in Nebraska, including federal judges. Nebraska Attorneys are asked to complete Questionnaires about judges they appear before. Judges are rated, on a scale of 1-5, on a number of categories including: Legal Analysis; Impartiality: Attentiveness; Opinions; Judicial Temperament & Demeanor; Appropriate Communication: and timeliness. In addition, attorneys are asked whether they believe the judge should be retained. The attorneys’ answers are kept confidential. After the answers are returned, the NSBA issues a report compiling the results of the attorneys’ answers.
2012 EVALUATION RESULTS
In 2012, approximately 27% of NSBA members participated in the NSBA Judicial Evaluation process. The vast majority of the 143 judges evaluated earned positive reviews. All but 2 judges were recommended by the participating attorneys that they be retained. The 2 judges not recommended for retention were Douglas County Court Judge Darryl Lowe and Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich. However, neither of these judges are up for a retention vote this year.
The full 2012 Evaluation results are available on the NSBA website: 2012 Evaluations.
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