Thursday, November 2, 2006

King County Judges' Reversal Rates

Statewide, 69% of the cases appealed to the Washington Court of Appeals in 2003 were affirmed. Is that rate the same here in King County? Is there any variation among the judges? Are some superior court judges reversed more often than others?

Frederick P. Corbit, a shareholder at Heller Ehrman, studied all the 2005 Washington Court of Appeals cases reviewing King County cases. Study Reveals Judges' Reversal Rates, Bar Bull, Oct. 2006. (Note: as soon as the November issue is loaded, the URL will change to this.) The affirmance rate was similar to the statewide rate in the earlier study: 67% affirmed. Of the 18 judges who had 10 or more cases appealed, not one was affirmed all the time -- but two were affirmed at least 90% of the time and four were affirmed on all issues in 50% or fewer cases.

Did those four judges just have a bad year? Were their low success rates just an aberration, attributable to the small sample size? Corbit took the four judges with the lowest affirmance rates and looked at all their appeals. One's rate went up from 30% to 62% -- a tremendous change, but still below average. Another stayed low (moving only from 50% to 51%). But the other two judges who had low affirmance rates in 2005 actually had above average rates when the sample was increased -- 72% and 88%.

Corbit also looked at how the judges were rated in the 2003 KCBA Judicial Evaluation Survey. Judges who were most often affirmed tended to get higher ratings, and judges who were most often reversed tended to get lower ratings.

Corbit concludes:

the sample of cases reviewed was not large enough by itself to be a useful tool in fairly evaluating King County Superior Court judges, but it shows enough disparity in the reversal rates between the highest-regarded trial judges and other judges to warrant a more exhaustive analysis of the reversal rates. The correlation observed between reversal rates and judicial evaluations suggests that reversal rates could be an appropriate factor to consider when evaluating Superior Court judges.
Tables with detailed data are here.

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