As the D.C. Bar has debated how to conduct its judicial evaluations, one local judge has done his own.
In 1982 and 1983, his first two years on the bench, Superior Court Judge Henry F. Greene sent forms to lawyers who had appeared before him, soliciting a "full and candid" assessment of his performance.
"I have been concerned about the inability of a new judge such as myself to obtain candid 'feedback' concerning one's performance," Greene wrote in a letter sent out with the first batch of surveys.
The five-page questionnaire sought comments on a wide range of subjects: whether Greene was fair to litigants; whether he kept them waiting too long; whether he was overly harsh in criticizing unprepared lawyers, and what lawyers thought about his innovative practices of letting jurors take notes.
Of 160 questionnaires sent the first year, Greene received 39 responses; of 175 surveys the second year, 23 were returned.
The responses were generally positive about both Greene's performance and the idea of the survey, although -- as in most matters -- the lawyers disagreed over specifics.
"I think you let lawyers wander too much," one wrote.
"On the whole, I think you have been too ready to stop argument when you thought you knew what was coming next," another observed.
In a 1983 letter to John Vanderstar, then head of the bar's evaluation committee, Greene said, "Essentially, I believe it is the bar's business, not the court's business, whether the bar chooses to embark on a judicial evaluation effort, and that any unsolicited criticism by a judge of a court which is to be evaluated only is likely to generate a public appearance that judges are attempting to avoid public scrutiny of their performance."
But, he said, the bar's questionnaire, which asked lawyers to rate the judge's performance, "hardly could be more ill-suited to accomplish its purpose. It places a wholly useless emphasis on 'rankings' to the exclusion of . . . meaningful substantive comments."
Greene said that he stopped the evaluations because he "had a little better sense of what I was doing." And, he said, by that time he was up for review by the bar's evaluation committee.