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Recruitment, Selection, and Performance Evaluation of Magistrate Judges

Recruitment Process

The proposed date that the new judge takes office is reviewed with the Supreme Court to ensure that adequate funds are available. A magistrate judge's appointment is subject to a fiscal appropriation by the legislature.

The vacancy is advertised in such a way that all lawyers in the state of Idaho are aware of the opportunity to apply for the vacant position, including:

  1. Notices of the vacancy are sent to each lawyer in the state by the Supreme Court. Notices include the legal requirements for the position and an Equal Employment Opportunity ADA Statement.
  2. If possible (and depending upon publication schedules), a notice of the vacancy is published in at least one issue of The Advocate (the monthly publication of the Idaho State Bar Association). Additional notices, as deemed necessary by the magistrates commission, may also be distributed.
  3. A news release is made to newspapers of record and broadcast media in the judicial district and, where appropriate, in adjoining districts.

The period for receipt of applications is long enough so that lawyers throughout the state have a reasonable opportunity to submit a uniform standard magistrate application form.

Once the deadline for applications has passed, a news release is issued to newspapers of record and broadcast media in the judicial district and in adjoining districts where appropriate, listing the applicants to allow public notice and comment upon the applicants.

Selection Process

After applications are received, an initial determination is made by the trial court administrator as to whether each applicant satisfies the minimum statutory qualifications to be a magistrate judge. Effective July 1, 2015, a person must, at the time of appointment, meet all of the following qualifications:

  1. Be at least thirty (30) years of age;
  2. Be a citizen of the United States;
  3. Have been a legal resident of the State of Idaho for at least two (2) continuous years immediately preceding such appointment;
  4. Have been in good standing as an active or judicial member of the Idaho State Bar for at least two (2) continuous years immediately preceding such appointment;
  5. Have held a license to practice law or held a judicial office in one (1) or more jurisdictions for at least five (5) continuous years immediately preceding such appointment;
  6. Be a qualified elector of the State of Idaho; and
  7. After appointment, reside in the county for which the magistrate judge is appointed.

The magistrates commission members determine the competence and experience qualifications which are the most important in selecting a magistrate judge. A list of the individual qualifications generally examined are:

  1. Integrity and moral courage
  2. Legal ability and experience
  3. Wisdom
  4. Intelligence
  5. Capacity to be fair-minded and deliberate
  6. Industriousness and promptness in performing duties
  7. Compatibility of personal habits and outside activities with judicial office
  8. Capacity to be courteous and considerate on the bench
  9. Legal research and writing
  10. Administrative skills

Commission members apply whatever weight to these individual qualifications they feel is appropriate.

Additional qualifications for magistrate judges may include:

  1. Awareness of recent legal developments
  2. Management abilities
  3. Patience and tolerance
  4. Listening skills
  5. Courtesy
  6. Compassion
  7. Independence from public and political influence

Preliminary Evaluations

Evaluations are solicited from practicing lawyers about all applicants in the following manner:

  1. Standard form questionnaires are distributed to each practicing lawyer in the state, seeking an assessment of the applicant's qualifications.
  2. Results of the questionnaire are compiled and distributed to each member of the magistrates commission.
  3. The expense of the questionnaire and its tabulation is borne by the Supreme Court which has developed a computer program for this purpose.

Public comment: Separate questionnaires are also distributed to district court clerk offices which allows members of the public, who might wish to do so, to comment on applicants. Such questionnaires are not "ballots" and require a statement of the relationship to the applicant or the basis upon which any public comments are made. All comments must be based on personal experience with the candidate.

Background checks: Prior to interviewing any applicants, the following background checks are made by the Supreme Court and the results communicated to the trial court administrator who distributes the information to magistrates commission members:

  1. State records are searched to determine whether any of the applicants have a prior criminal history.
  2. The Idaho State Bar is contacted to obtain the results of any complaints and/or discipline actions against an applicant.
  3. The Idaho State Tax Commission is contacted to determine whether each of the applicants has filed all required state tax returns, whether each applicant has timely paid all state tax liabilities and/or whether the State Tax Commission has filed any liens against an applicant.
  4. The withheld judgment registry maintained by the Idaho Supreme Court is examined.
  5. When desired by the magistrates commission, a copy of university and law school transcripts are obtained for review by the commission.

(A standard waiver statement is included in each signed magistrate applicant form to allow access to the above records.)

The district trial court administrator is responsible for contacting an applicant's personal and professional references and for checking local criminal records.

Magistrates Commission Proceedings and Related Matters

Persons who may be present: Members of the public, press, and other judges may be present at the interview stage of the selection process, but they may not be present during the commissionís deliberations and vote on the applicants. With the approval of the administrative district judge, the district trial court administrator may be present at all proceedings of the magistrates commission.

Abbreviated list of applicants: Magistrates commissions may adopt a process, subject to standards of fairness, equal opportunity, and merit selection whereby the total number of applications for a vacant position is reduced to a list of finalists for purposes of receiving an interview by the magistrates commission.

Member contact outside of proceedings: Whether individual commission members should entertain individual contacts by applicants or their supporters outside of commission proceedings is a matter of preference to be decided by each magistrates commission. It is the preference of the Third Judicial District Magistrates Commission to NOT contact members either directly or indirectly. All contact should be made in writing through the office of the Trial Court Administrator.

Voting: The commission decides the method of voting in advance, including whether to avoid a plurality vote on the first ballot to insure a candidate is not selected by a minority of the commission.

Interviewing Techniques

Subject to the fairness and equality standards and the suggested interview questions set out above, the following interviewing techniques are suggested for use by magistrates commission members when interviewing applicants:

  1. When interviewing applicants, magistrates commission members should seek examples of occasions when particular job qualifications were exhibited by the applicant. Examples of past behavior are the appropriate measure of the applicant's probable future behavior. Questions which ask for "an example of a time when you . . ." are encouraged to provide a basis for evaluating the applicant's probable success as a magistrate judge.
  2. Each applicant should be asked the same core group of questions so that the magistrates commission may compare the applicant's qualifications and so that each applicant is given an equal opportunity to respond. Individualized questions may also be asked of a particular applicant in order to solicit further information or to clarify a response to one of the standard questions.

Applicants are briefed at the interview that it is a condition of employment, and should be requested to confirm, that if hired, they will:

Selection of Judges of the Magistrate Division

The district magistrates commission in each judicial district fills a vacancy or a new judgeship by appointing a magistrate judge to an initial 18-month term of office. Just prior to the conclusion of their first 18 months, the magistrate's commission evaluates the performance of the new magistrate and may determine that the judge has successfully completed their probationary period, they may extend the probationary period, or they can remove the magistrate from office. Afterwards, the judge must stand for retention election each four years on a non-partisan, judicial ballot, wherein the electors of the judicial district are asked: "Shall Magistrate Judge _________________ (name of the judge) of ________________ (name of county) County of the Third Judicial District be retained in office?" Yes No

Goals of Performance Appraisals

To gather and assess reliable information concerning judicial performance: (1) so that each judge may maximize his or her potential for judicial excellence through self-improvement, thereby enhancing the quality of justice to the public; (2) to facilitate assignment and use of judges within the judiciary; (3) to assess educational needs of new judges; and (4) to measure performance of the newly-appointed magistrate to allow the commission to make a determination as to whether the magistrate should be removed or retained during the initial 18-month appointment.

Appraisal Criteria (Same as Recruitment and Selection Criteria Above)

Performance Appraisal

  1. Once the magistrate judge takes office (and is not disapproved by a majority of the district judges in the district), the magistrate judge must satisfactorily complete an 18-month probationary period prior to standing election. The magistrates commission conducts at least one appraisal of the magistrate judge's performance prior to the expiration of the probationary period.
  2. Observations or recommendations of the magistrates commission as a result of studying the appraisals are communicated to the magistrate judge, prior to the expiration of the probationary period.
  3. Data Collection: Information is elicited from a variety of reliable sources, encouraged by assuring confidentiality to respondents, and should be based on first-hand, reasonably current knowledge. It is recommended that data be collected through responses to questionnaires only and personal interviews with court users not be incorporated into the appraisal process. Appropriately drafted questionnaires are made available to lawyers within the judicial district, to court and county personnel, court users, colleagues of the judge, and local court administrators.
  4. Synthesis and Analysis: Results of the questionnaires are tabulated and analyzed by the trial court administrator.
  5. Usage: Results of the judicial performance appraisal are communicated by the magistrates commission, through the trial court administrator, to the individual judge. Results of the judicial performance appraisal remain absolutely confidential. Because the purpose of the judicial performance appraisal process is to provide an opportunity to each judge for self-improvement, results of the judicial performance appraisal are not published in any fashion, ranked in any way, or made available to anyone except members of the magistrates commission, administrative district judge, trial court administrator, and the judge whose performance has been appraised. Educational needs, if any, shall be communicated to the administrative director of the courts by the trial court administrator.
  6. Magistrates commissions may also consider asking judges whose performance is being appraised to complete a self-assessment. The self-assessment is reviewed by the magistrates commission, but it will be for the judge's own use.

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