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Web-based tool streamlines judge vetting

By Jody A. Nuñez
Chair, Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation

Jody NunezIn an effort to save resources – time, money, paper and printing – the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) began moving toward a “paperless” rating system in 2010. We’ve made much progress since then and are now about to launch a new tool that we hope will make the process of evaluating judges easier and faster.

Initially, the commission chose Survey Monkey to electronically distribute Confidential Comment Forms, (CCFs). The popular online tool met requirements for security, tracking and reporting. Paper-based surveys were still used in situations where raters did not provide email addresses or did not opt-in to electronic mailing lists, but the “paperless” initiative had begun in earnest.

This system has greatly reduced costs and saved commissioners time distributing and compiling CCFs. Unfortunately, at the same time, JNE staff needed more time to troubleshoot technical issues, respond to real-time reporting requests from commissioners and conduct other activities that were not a part of the traditional, paper-based process. While the third-party online platform and tool showed the many advantages of electronic distribution, the commission maintained a vision of building and using a proprietary web-based application.

In 2015, Survey Monkey changed its tool and removed the ability to selectively search, sort and filter data, compile and display ratings as expected, and run various reports integral to the process which had been in place for nearly five years. Building a proprietary tool became more than a vision. It was a necessity now that critical components were no longer available from the third-party application vendor.

A committee of JNE commissioners and staff formed, met and identified system requirements. The State Bar IT staff took those requirements and designed, developed and deployed a proprietary web-based tool aimed at greatly improving users’ ability to launch and complete bi-monthly campaigns. A pilot group of commissioners tested the tool in February and the team made adjustments. The plan is to “go live,” conducting the entire June campaign using the new system.

Employing this new tool, the lead commissioner, co-commissioner and each candidate will be able to upload what is called the “Personal and PDQ (Personal Data Questionnaire) list” without JNE staff involvement. Investigating commissioners will be able to set up random mailing lists using new filtering options and launch individual campaigns, also without the need to engage staff. Commissioners will be able to see the progress of their active campaigns, resubmit CCFs as needed and follow up with additional forms in a timely manner independently.

Raters using the new tool will find it easier to work with the forms. To start, when a rater begins the questionnaire they will be able to complete it in one step or save and return later to complete the forms. Raters will be able to edit responses more easily and add unlimited comments. In addition, a dynamic progress bar allows raters to check where they are in the process. Raters receive a notice of completion when they have successfully submitted the CCF. Future updates will include the option to upload letters and documents to a candidate’s CCF.

The commission is excited about these new capabilities and looks forward to more targeted campaigns and better preparation and reporting to use in full commission meetings and ultimately submission to the governor’s office. The team also hopes to see an uptick in opt-ins for electronic and email contacts, further optimizing the web-based tool and process plus saving more resources over time.