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VOL. 39 | NO. 43 | Friday, October 23, 2015

Revival afoot for judicial accountability ratings

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So, I was in Northwest Arkansas a couple weeks ago for a golf tournament. On Friday night I swung by Penguin Ed’s, bought a mess of barbecue, and took it to the home of Sam and Pat Perroni, long-time friends who used to live in Little Rock. They have a beautiful spread a few miles outside Fayetteville, a picture-perfect spot for grandparenting.

I met Pat and Sam in the late 1970s through my church. Sam’s law practice and mine overlapped somewhat, and we might have referred clients to one another, or tried to.

We played church league basketball together – Sam at center, me at guard. I contributed to Sam’s campaign when he ran for office in the 1980s, and he contributed to mine in the 1990s.

As we munched on some seriously sumptuous brisket, Sam told me about an organization he’s formed, the American Foundation for Judicial Accountability (AFJA), an “anonymous judicial rating website for lawyers and litigants.” Check it out on Facebook or visit judicialrating.com.

After certain parties “killed” the Arkansas Bar Association’s system for rating judges many years ago, Sam said, he “made a personal vow to resurrect it someday. I envisioned paper ballots, but … the website is more efficient.”

I was just out of law school when the judicial rating system fell by the wayside.

Each year, a survey went out to all members of the bar, listing Arkansas judges and asking certain basic questions.

I recall there was controversy over the system being discontinued. Judges who were consistently rated poorly were said to be elated by its downfall. Some say “they” engineered it.

Sam believes the process the foundation has set up “will improve the judiciary.” He stresses “accountability” will come about only through anonymous ratings.

“That is the only way people will honestly express their opinions about judges,” he said.

In a YouTube video promoting the idea, Sam says a “third-party administrator” will be the only entity with access to the data that would connect names to comments.

Currently, the site lists all of Arkansas’s federal judges and state judges at the circuit court level and higher. The goal is later to include Arkansas district judges (like me) and then expand to other states. That’s apparently going to require some fund-raising.

Sam says “the citizens who have experiences before judges should be able to rate those experiences.” And “lawyers [who] know the judges who are doing their jobs and those who are not … will not [speak up] unless it’s anonymous.”

Joining Sam and Pat on the foundation’s board of directors are John K. Kelly, Summer L. Pruett, Charles L. Marsh, Timothy O. Dudley, and Margaret B. Faulkner. I applaud Sam for sticking with this project, which we really only touched on in passing.

We talked more about family, friends, memories of times gone by. And sports. I was greatly enriched by the reminiscing. But it didn’t help my golf game one iota.

Surely there’s at least another column that could be generated on Sam and Pat’s foundation, the pros and cons of anonymous commentary, and the like. Your thoughts on the AFJA?

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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