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Join JNE in promoting a quality judiciary

By Kimberly Knill
Chair, State Bar Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission

Kimberly KnillThe State Bar’s Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) Commission investigates every judicial candidate being considered for appointment by the governor.

Our mission is to promote a California judiciary of quality and integrity by providing independent, comprehensive, accurate and fair evaluations of candidates for judicial appointment and nomination. This past year, the commission conducted 169 evaluations. These consisted of 151 superior court evaluations, 16 Court of Appeal evaluations and two Supreme Court evaluations. 

We meet six times a year in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and our investigations are ongoing year-round. But our most important resource is you.

Our work includes soliciting information from attorneys, judges and others in the legal community for each candidate we review. The confidential comment forms we send out allow members of the community to rate a candidate’s professional reputation and ability, legal experience, judicial temperament and work ethic, as well as any bias that may be present. We also ask members of the community to provide an overall rating for each candidate: exceptionally well-qualified, well-qualified, qualified or not qualified.

One of our goals for the upcoming year is focused on you, the raters. Because we value and require the community’s input in every evaluation we undertake, we are working to improve our ability to reach you in the most efficient way possible. Your voice makes a difference to us and to the governor. Over the past several years we have utilized SurveyMonkey to send surveys by email, but we are working on a new, more user-friendly method for sending rating forms through email. We hope to launch this new comment method by the end of the year.

Another goal for the upcoming year is focused on the future members of the judiciary: those preparing to apply for a judicial position. The process of submitting a judicial application (with its 74 separate questions) and being vetted by JNE may seem daunting. We’re here to shed light on the process. Although the specifics of a candidate’s investigation are strictly confidential, we are available to help explain how to navigate the application process and what to expect from JNE if the governor requests an evaluation. For example, we can answer questions such as how many commissioners will be assigned to a candidate’s investigation, how long an investigation will take, whether an interview will be necessary, and if so, who will be present, whether a candidate will be provided with the commission’s overall rating at the conclusion of JNE’s investigation, what to do if a candidate is found not qualified for the bench and how the appeal process is handled.

In the coming year, we will continue our outreach to bar associations, Inns of Court and other legal organizations throughout the state by offering to take part in events that explore the judicial application and selection process. If you would like to schedule an event with participation from the JNE Commission, we will see that a commissioner is available to attend.

The work we do is challenging but highly rewarding, and the commission is seeking applicants for its 2016 class. Any California lawyer, former judicial officer or member of the public who has an interest in serving is invited to apply. The application deadline is June 1. Additional information and the application can be found on the JNE page of the State Bar website.

Kimberly Knill, a legal research attorney with the Orange County Superior Court, last month became chair of the JNE Commission, which vets all candidates being considered for a judicial appointment by the governor.