Dawson County judges receive high marks in evaluation by lawyers

LEXINGTON — In a performance evaluation by the Nebraska State Bar Association, two Dawson County judges received high marks.

The 2020 Judicial Performance Evaluation is the 19th biennial evaluation of Nebraska judges by Nebraska lawyers, according to a release from the NSBA.

The poll was disseminated to 5,553 attorneys, according to the release. Attorneys were instructed to evaluate only judges with whom they had recent, first-hand professional experience; or in the case of appeals court judges, with whose written opinions they were familiar, 1,088 evaluations were completed.

The evaluation is completely voluntary and bar members had the opportunity to not participate. According to the release, all responses were confidential. No name, town or other identifying information was solicited or tabulated.

Attorneys were asked to review judges based on characteristics such as legal analysis, impartiality, attentiveness, opinions, judicial temperament, communication, prompt work performance, fairness, efficiency, punctuality and trial management.

Attorneys were asked to assign each a numerical rating using a scale of “5” (excellent) to “1” (very poor).

The scale breaks down more specifically as

5 = Excellent, performance is outstanding

4 = Good, performance is above average

3 = Satisfactory, performance is adequate

2 = Deficient, performance is below average

1 = Very poor, performance is well below average and unacceptable

Judge James Doyle IV of District 11 was rated as such,

Legal Analysis: 4.34

Impartiality: 4.22

Attentiveness: 4.45

Opinions: 4.32

Judicial Temperament: 4.31

Appropriate Communication: 4.45

Performance in timely manner: 3.82

Fairness: 4.38

Efficiency in docket management, scheduling: 4.03

Punctuality: 4.25

Trial Management: 4.07

Lawyers were asked if their principal practice was in Judge Doyle’s district, 35.3 percent said yes, 64.7 percent said no.

When asked if Judge Doyle should be retained in office, 91.7 percent said yes, 8.3 percent said no.

Judge Jeffrey Wightman, also of District 11, was evaluated the same way,

Legal Analysis: 4.43

Impartiality: 4.52

Attentiveness: 4.57

Opinions: 4.43

Judicial Temperament: 4.62

Appropriate Communication: 4.56

Performance in timely manner: 4.48

Fairness: 4.70

Efficiency in docket management, scheduling: 4.52

Punctuality: 4.70

Trial Management: 4.52

When asked if their principal practice was in Wightman’s district, 45.5 percent of bar members said yes, 55.5 percent said no.

When asked if Judge Wightman should retain his office, 96 percent said yes, and only four percent said no.

How Nebraska Judges are Selected and Retained:

According to the NSBA release, judges of Nebraska courts are selected through merit selection or the “Missouri Plan.” When a judicial vacancy occurs, individuals interested in being appointed to the bench submit their names for consideration.

Merit Selection judges are appointed by the governor, but the appointment is made after a politically balanced, nine-member commission reviews applicants, evaluates their qualifications, and holds public interviews. Comments from the public are encouraged and considered in the selection process. For each judicial vacancy, the commission selects at least two nominees whose names are sent to the governor for consideration and appointment.

In a retention election, voters decide whether a judge should be retained on the bench or removed from office.

A judge must run for retention in office in the first general election that occurs more than three (3) years after his or her appointment, and every six (6) years thereafter. When a judge runs for retention in office, the question presented on the voters’ ballots states: “Shall Judge ___________ be retained in office?” If there are more votes to retain a judge than to remove him or her, then the judge remains on the bench for an additional six (6) years.

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