When Local Attorneys Judge the Judges

Categories: The Courts
His JEP results may be low, but have you ever noticed how star-studded Carlos Cortez's photo album is?
Judges hate the Dallas Bar Association's judicial evaluation polls, a semi-semi-tradition dating to 1975 that took a brief pause in '07, when judges managed to get the thing sidelined by grousing that the methodology was unfair and, besides, it weren't nothing but a popularity contest, so ... harrumph. But two years and a few tweaks later, the JEP returned in '09 -- at which point we had a lengthy back-and-forth with attorneys and judges about the merits of the poll at this late date.

Read it for the fine print. Or don't and just head here for a peek at the DBA's latest Judicial Evaluation Poll, which rates things like temperament, knowledge of the law and overall excellence and this year comes with various supporting docs -- such as a look at the methodology and a demographic breakdown of respondents, of which there were 1,254 out of the 10,060 members of the DBA.

Friend of Unfair Park Bill Holston's among those who did vote -- and he certainly fits the bill of the majority of those who filled out the paperwork. Which is to say: He's a white guy working in an office with two to five attorneys, and he's been practicing for more than 25 years. "Maybe the young lawyers aren't even in the custom of doing this," says Brother Bill. "Or maybe they don't think it's important."

Judges do, even if they say they don't.

And if they don't, they oughta -- right, Judge Carlos Cortez? Which is to say: More than half of the 441 attorneys who responded in Cortez's case said his overall performance "needs improvement," making him the sole civil district judge with a higher than 50 percent overall dissatisfaction ranking. On the flip side, Judges Martin Hoffman, Jim Jordan, Ken Molberg and Craig Smith all pulled 50 percent or higher in the atta-boy department.

"I think the results mean something," says Holston, who says attorneys were asked to confirm they'd been in front of the judge they're ranking so they don't just, you know, vote on reputation alone, because then it would be nothing more than a popularity contest. "And I've talked to judges who say they pay attention to the results. If a good judge gets a low vote on judicial temperament they pay attention -- or they should. They should ask themselves why. And my experience with bad judges is it makes them more upset."

Alicia Hernandez, director of the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, helps oversee the poll. And she says there's been no backlash since its return in '09. "Now, I could be forgetting ...," she says with a small laugh. "But, no, it's been pretty quiet."

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D'Metria Benson deserves special mention.  Her Dallas Bar Polls continue to decline.

In 2013 88 percent beleived D'Metria needed an improved knowledge of the law of those polled in the Dallas County Judicial Poll.

In 2011 83 percent beleived D'Metria needed an improved knowledge of the law of those polled in the Dallas County Judicial Poll.

In 2009 81 percent beleived D'Metria needed an improved knowledge of the law of those polled in the Dallas County Judicial Poll.

D'Metria D'Needs D'Go.

Post D'Metria Horror Stories Here Anonymously:



Lawyers bitch about everything. It is gratifying, however, that none of these assholes seem to be completely in love any of these Judges.

My contempt for lawyers may run a little deep and personal.  I must admit, however, that lawyers are strangely less greedy and unethical than doctors. Doctors bitch about everything too. But sometimes not so privately, all of them use their ghoulish education to figure out how they can extract as much cash they can from their patients. The perverse incentives in our medical system fit perfectly with their sociopathic personalities.

I digress.

A light at the end of the black hole of the legal profession are appellate attorneys. They mostly care about the law. Good ones want to live under the carpet in a cold place and think. The following is a very sexist statement (said as a male), but female appellate attorneys are goddesses. The smartest, most balanced, most beautiful person you should kill or steal for (the latter more probable in your case) to have them be your friend and counsel.

I won't change my mind.

Dr. Burlough
Dr. Burlough

There's two on the County Court at Law benches who are crazy as a sh--house rat.

Everybody who practices in the County Courts knows exactly who I'm referring to.

BFD! I haven't seen numbers lately, 25k to 30k lawyers in Dallas County.

1200 returned ratings. 50 voted in most of the Q'aires.



How did D'Metria Benson avoid being mentioned?  She is the worst judge in the history of Dallas County, and the poll reflects it.  Is it true that she is so incompetent that she was once fired from a city attorney position by the City of Dallas, despite being a black female?



One reason the young attorneys don't fill it out is because we don't spend as much time in front of the judges.  Even when we do make an appearance or two, we have less confidence rating them because many of us haven't seen enough judging to know when its good or bad (at least not relative to the other local judges).  Don't give up on us yet: We do think it's important and we do care.  Quite a few joined the Committee for a Qualified Judiciary last go around. 


A Young Attorney 


I have been fortunate to work closely with several appellate lawyers (male and female) and agree that they are some of the best that our profession has to offer.  I will follow my mother's advice so I have nothing to say about Benson. 

DFW Lawyer
DFW Lawyer


Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

Sorry -- just went through some civil district judges. I am going to go through the list and get some bests and worsts for a later post.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

It's not just young lawyers.  The over 10K members of the Dallas Bar are a very diverse lot, and only a fraction of them spend enough time in courts of any kind to be qualified to answer the poll questions under the very strict rules about having personal experience with the judges.  It's unfair to criticize the poll turnout.

That said, I am mystified by some of these results.  I've spent quite a lot of time in Cortez's court, and how even 25% of respondents could criticize his preparation for hearings and trials is beyond me.  Every other judge down there should aspire to reach his level of preparation.  And the judicial demeanor numbers must be driven by his behavior outside the courtroom. 

I'm going to censor myself on specific criticism of the other judges out of utter paranoia, but suffice it to say that there are at least 3 other civil district court judges that simply don't belong on any bench anywhere, and I am highly confused by their poll numbers.  I'd love to meet their partisans.  For the first time, I find myself somewhat sympathetic to the judges' arguments that the poll is unreliable, but I think it has been unreliable in its kindness to poor judges.

On the bright side, the civil County Court at Law results are exactly in line with my experience.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

It's a big change in the practice Guest. When I started practicing it was common to be in Court multiple times a week. I practiced in criminal, family and civil courts and would spend hours down there.  It's much harder to rack that time of court time now.

I commend you for being that circumspect about voting. There were quite a few judges I didn't vote in, because I had not been in front of them.

 I'm a big fan of CQJ. That's a great way to get involved. Kudos on that.

speaking of which, I see my friend Alicia quoted above. One way for young lawyers to get involved in court time is taking pro bono cases. Give Alicia a shout, she'll set you up with a case that'll get you in front of some judges.




That would be 75% say she “needs improvement” onpreparation, 73% on issuing timely orders, 74% on impartiality, 83% on basicknowledge of the law, 74% on demeanor, and, wait for it, *84%* of attorneysresponding disapprove of her overall.  Thisis not a fluke; it is an embarrassment.

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