Since Iowa adopted its merit system for selecting judges in 1962, The Iowa State Bar Association has conducted the Judicial Performance Review as a way of giving voters information on the Iowa judges up for retention that election year. The Judicial Performance Review is conducted biennially and asks members to participate in an anonymous setting.

Under Iowa’s judicial merit selection system, judges are appointed by the governor after going through an extensive interview and evaluation process by the Judicial Nominating Commission. Voters then decide during the November elections whether the judges should remain in office.

The Judicial Performance Evaluation was electronically sent September 2022 to the 5,688 active ISBA members residing in Iowa asking them to participate if qualified. 1,118 bar association members completed the evaluation which ended September 19, 2022. Attorneys were instructed to evaluate judges only if they meet the following qualifications:

  • If they have had sufficient contact and experience with a judge that the judge would be able to evaluate their performance as a lawyer as well; or

  • They have first-hand experience which provides them with a professional basis on which to evaluate the judge’s performance (courtroom, pretrial, knowledge of opinions or other professional experience) and can make an informed evaluation; or

  • They have practiced before the judge or are otherwise reasonably familiar with the judge’s work (in the case of trial courts); or

  • They are familiar with the judge’s opinions (in the case of appellate courts).

Sixty-one district court judges and four appellate judges standing for retention in this year’s general elections on November 8. All 65 were evaluated on their professionalism and demeanor as determined by the attorneys who voted in the biennial review. Thirteen of Iowa’s 14 judicial election districts have at least one judge standing for retention in the 2022 elections.

Attorneys rate the judges on questions related to their professional competence; i.e., knowledge and application of the law, perception of factual issues, attentiveness to arguments and testimony, management and control of the courtroom, and promptness of rulings and decisions. The ratings range from 1-5 with 5 being “excellent” and 1 being “very poor.”

Attorneys also rated judges on questions related to their demeanor; i.e., avoids undue personal observations or criticisms of litigants, judges, and lawyers from the bench or in written orders; decides cases on the basis of applicable law and fact, not affected by outside influence; is courteous and patient with litigants, lawyers, and court personnel; deals with pro se litigants and pro se litigation fairly and effectively; and treats people equally regardless of race, gender, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or disability and demonstrates an awareness of the influence of implicit bias. The ratings on these questions also range from 1 to 5, with 5 being “strongly agree” and 1 being “strongly disagree.”