A new Illinois Supreme Court rule requires trial judges to submit to confidential performance evaluations.
Continuing a series of initiatives that have been in the works for years, the Illinois Supreme Court has amended SCR 58 to make performance evaluations for circuit and associate judges mandatory. The rule amendment, entered March 1, 2011, was effective immediately.
Mandatory - and strictly confidential
Though SCR 58 has been in effect in different incarnations since 1988, until now evaluations have been optional for judges. According to Joseph Tybor, press secretary for the supreme court, judicial evaluations until now have been conducted in different judicial circuits that have chosen to volunteer on a circuit-wide basis for evaluations. In 2008, the last year for which statistics were available, 74 judges from the fourth, eighth, and 22nd judicial circuits and the second municipal district of Cook County volunteered to be evaluated.
By adding the word "mandatory" to the rule, the court has underscored its intent, announced in a press release on December 1, 2008, for all of Illinois's 900-odd circuit and associate judges to undergo formal judicial performance evaluations. As reflected in that press release, the amendment continues the court's long-term plan to enhance the performance of Illinois judges and improve public confidence in the state's courts. The Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts will randomly select between 100 and 125 judges from around the state for the first round of evaluations.
As amended, the rule provides that the supreme court will supervise the performance evaluation program and that the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee, appointed by the court, will establish procedures to implement the program. SCR 58 applies only to circuit and associate judges, not to justices of the appellate or supreme courts or to judges on the court of claims.
The rule emphasizes that information compiled and used in the course of judicial performance evaluations is to be privileged and strictly confidential, known only to the individual judge evaluated and those assigned to present the information to the judge. The identities of those who provide information for the evaluation are likewise privileged and confidential.
The rule provides that no information or documents compiled and used in the course of evaluations shall be discoverable or admissible as evidence in any action of any kind, whether before a court, agency, or other tribunal or person. The rule's sole exception to confidentiality is information that discloses a criminal act, which, if the supreme court so directs, may be provided to law enforcement authorities.
Enhancing judicial performance
In a March 1, 2011 press release, the court reiterated its 2008 statement of the judicial evaluation program's purpose and provided more details of how the evaluations will be conducted. "Under this program," said Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride, "every one who serves at the Circuit Court level will be evaluated by those who appear before them and work with them."
Tybor said in an interview that those individuals might include not only lawyers who appear before judges but also other judges and courtroom personnel. The National Center for State Courts will administer the program.
Tybor said the NCSC has prepared a form on which judges being evaluated may identify people who have information about their judicial performance. With that information, Tybor said, the NCSC will contact those people and question those people about the judge's impartiality, legal ability, professionalism, communication and management skills.
Once it has done so, the NCSC will provide the compiled data to facilitators who will review it on an individual basis with the judges being evaluated. The goal, Tybor emphasized, will be to enhance judicial performance.
Those designated to facilitate judicial performance evaluations will themselves be judges or retired judges who have been trained in the evaluation process, the court said. Information concerning the evaluation results will be available to the supreme court in summary form, as SCR 58 provides, without the names of the individual judges evaluated.
Tybor said the results will not be used to spotlight any judges for election or retention. Rather, he said, the high court expects to use the information to improve overall court administration and judicial performance.
The website for the National Center for State Courts is at http://www.ncsc.org. The court's rules and press releases, as well as information on its various committees, are available on its website at http://state.il.us/court/default.asp.