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Judicial Excellence Project aims to serve as national model

By Marcia M. Meis, Administrative Director of the AOIC

January 31, 2018

In late 2015, the AOIC was invited to partner with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) on a 24-month project with the stated goal of identifying the knowledge, skills, abilities and other factors that contribute to judicial excellence. With funding support from the State Justice Institute, this Judicial Excellence Project (JEP) sought to develop a framework that could be used to support a well-coordinated, evidence-based system of judicial professional development for state courts throughout the country. By identifying competencies recommended for specific judicial assignments, such as juvenile court, problem-solving courts, and family court, the project outcomes would help to further define judicial professional development and educational curricula.

To better understand what "judicial excellence" means to those who serve in the judicial role, the JEP began, in early 2016, with the selection of over 100 Illinois state court judges from diverse backgrounds and assignments. The NCSC team engaged with these judges in over 100 hours of interviews during the 2016 Judicial Education Conference, followed by 24 hours of focus group discussion and follow-up surveys to judicial participants.

After completion of the work, the NCSC submitted the final report of this effort in November 2017, entitled Elements of Judicial Excellence: A Framework to Support the Professional Development of State Trial Court Judges. The NCSC presented on this report at the 2017 COSCA Mid-year Meeting in December 2017 and has now published the report on the NCSC website at: http://www.ncsc.org/judicialexcellence.

Resulting from these efforts is a framework comprised of three clusters and nine elements:


Citizen of the Court

Informed & Impartial Decision Maker

Leader of the Court Process

-Ethics & Integrity

-Knowledge of the Law & Justice System

-Managing the Case & Court Process

-Engagement

-Critical Thinking

-Building Respect & Understanding

-Well-Being              

-Self-Knowledge & Self-Control

-Facilitating Resolution


The framework serves as a resource for judges, judicial educators, judicial mentors, and other state court leaders engaged in judicial professional development planning and/or coordination. It provides both new and experienced judges with guidance about the general types of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics their peers view as helpful in pursuit of judicial excellence. Court leaders can use this information in deciding how to structure judicial education, performance feedback programs and mentoring programs for judges. It also provides judicial professional development program stakeholders with a common language for discussing developmental objectives and improving coordination of resources across developmental programs. The NCSC report explains these clusters and elements in greater detail and hopes to provide court leaders with critical information when planning judicial education, performance and mentoring programs.

Going forward, the report will be made available to judges and staff involved in the development of judicial professional development programs in Illinois, including the Judicial College and the Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) Committee, as well as JPE facilitators and mentors. It may also prove beneficial to development of a long-term strategic plan for the Illinois judicial branch.

Many hours of thoughtful work contributed to this successful project, and the Illinois courts will undoubtedly benefit from this unique opportunity. On behalf of the Supreme Court, I would like to thank the following: the professional staff from the NCSC for guiding the administration of this project; key members of the Illinois judiciary who assisted in coordination, including Hon. Gene Schwarm (ret.), Hon. Michael Toomin (Circuit Court of Cook County), Hon. Walter Braud (Chief Judge of the 14th  Judicial Circuit), and Hon. Paula Gomora (12th Judicial Circuit); and AOIC Assistant Director Todd Schroeder for spearheading the AOIC’s involvement and AOIC Assistant Director Cyrana Mott who was instrumental with the interview process at 2016 Education Conference.