BREAKING: Commission Advises No Retention of SF Judge
Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission says attorneys rate Sheri Raphaelson poorlyLocal NewsFriday, September 19, 2014
The nonpartisan group’s evaluation, released today, says low scores in surveys of attorneys, court staff, jurors and other participants who interacted with Raphaelson factored into the 15-member commission’s decision to recommend to voters that they should not retain the judge in the upcoming November election.
“Attorneys give her low ratings when it comes to treating all participants equally and for displaying fairness and impartiality toward each side of the case,” the 15-member commission’s evaluation says. “They also rate her lower for not always exercising sound legal reasoning and for not conducting herself in a manner free from arrogance.”
After being elected to the bench, district court judges are also subjected to nonpartisan retention elections where they don’t face opponents. They must receive approval of 57 percent of voters to stay on the bench.
The commission issued two “do not retain” recommendations this year out of 85 judges judges standing for retention across the state.
The commission, established by the state’s Supreme Court and known as JPEC, has issued recommendations to voters on whether they should retain judges and justices for nine elections. At least eight of the commission’s 15 members must agree on a recommendation. The 15 appointees, which include seven lawyers and seven non-lawyers, rely on surveys of the judges to issue recommendations. It doesn’t release vote tallies or confidential midterm surveys of judges.
But it does release final surveys filled out by three different categories of citizens who might interact with a judge: attorneys, including defense and prosecutors; court staff; and resource staff, which can include police officers, probation officers and social workers.
Out of 124 attorneys surveyed, 45 percent either strongly recommended or somewhat recommended Raphaelson should not be retained. Roughly 42 percent of 54 court staffers said the same, while 78 percent of resource staff leaned toward “do not retain.”
Judge Raphaelson’s scores survey scores improved from her 2011 interim evaluation, the commission says, but her scores among attorneys decreased or stayed the same since that confidential evaluation.
“During this final retention evaluation,” the commission says, “Raphaelson did not take responsibility for her survey scores and the negative comments by survey participants. The Commission feels her attitude and demeanor are reflective of her judicial temperament and are an accurate reflection of the survey results.”
Judges are able to see comments from survey respondents, says Brian Sanderoff, President of Research and Polling Inc., the Albuquerque firm that conducts the surveys. But, he adds, those comments are confidential.
From May 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013, parties excused Raphaelson “at a significantly higher rate than any other judge in the district (537 times),” says the commission, “requesting their cases be reassigned to a different judge.”
She was appointed in 2009 and elected in 2010 to the bench on the First Judicial District Court, which includes Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties. The group recommended the retention of four other district judges in the court: T. Glenn Ellington; Raymond Ortiz; Sarah Singleton; and Mary Marlowe Sommer.
The group also recommended voters in the area should retain state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chaves. Cynthia A. Fry, Linda M Vanzi and Jim Wechsler, members of the state’s Appeals Court, also received “retain” recommendations from JPEC.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” says Karen Cortese, a commissioner since 2008, says of the do-not-retain recommendation, ” but we’ve done it in the past.”
Yet she and Denise Torres, chair of JPEC, says they’ve seen judges be elected after JPEC’s do-not-retain recommendation. Torres says one judge reacted positively to the “jolt.”
“We continued to work with that judge and we saw significant improvement,” she says.
The group distributes guides to educate voters about the records of judges and justices up for retention. You can view the reports at www.nmjpec.org.