What is the hallmark of a good judge? Is it a keen intelligence and legal mind? The ability to spot a liar at 20 yards? A passion for bureaucracy? The patience to listen to lawyers blather on and on for hours? Today I witnessed an example of what I consider the key trait of a good judge: a willingness to hear constructive criticism about their performance on the bench.
This morning prosecutors and defense lawyers around the Seattle area received an email request to participate in a survey of three judges currently sitting on the bench in Seattle Municipal Court. I received this email myself and followed the link to a Survey Monkey survey requesting feedback on the performance of Seattle Municipal Court Judges McKenna, Donahue, and Rosen and the court in general. This anonymous survey was initiated by the judges themselves and completely voluntary. While judges in King county are regularly evaluated by the King County Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Survey – Judges Rosen, Donahue and McKenna are the first judges in my knowledge to initiate such a survey and participate voluntarily.
As someone who regularly requests that clients review my performance via Survey Monkey, I understand that initiating such feedback takes courage. While the positive reviews feel great – it is never easy to hear criticism of your performance. However, without a willingness to listen to others with an open mind, it is too easy to become complacent and stagnant in our legal practice. This is true of judges as well, who also must fight the inevitable isolation that results from leaving a law practice to take the bench.
Kudos to Judges McKenna, Donahue, and Rosen for their initiation of this survey. Regardless of what results this survey brings, these judges have shown a key trait of judicial excellence – a willingness to hear how they are doing as judges and a desire to improve the Court.