A little insight into those judge ratings …

I pulled a little piece of nastiness out of my mailbox this week with a headline that screamed “Judge Rob Wilkins has been ranked one of the worst judges in North Carolina.”

Really?  Well, I decided to dig a little deeper into the matter.  The nasty flier cites the January 9, 2012 issue of North Carolina Lawyers Weekly as its source.   I found that article, and saw that it referenced a survey by the North Carolina Bar Association.  I went to the Bar Association’s web site to explore the matter a little further.  Here are the survey results for the two contested District Court seats in Moore, Randolph and Montgomery counties.

Let’s see what the survey says about the race between Judge Rob Wilkins and Randolph County attorney Jane Redding.   The Bar Association results show that Wilkins was rated by 96 attorneys, while Redding was rated by only 53.  The survey data also includes this important footnote: “[…]not all lawyers rated all qualities […].”  So, 96 attorneys may have rated Wilkins on “Integrity,” while only 83 may have rated him on “Professionalism.”  This thing is starting to look quite meaningless — in terms of its value as a candidate-evaluation tool.

According to the bar’s survey data,  only 46.9 percent of the lawyers who rated Wilkins gave him an “Excellent” or “Good” rating on “Integrity and Fairness / Impartiality.”   If you assume all 96 lawyers rated Wilkins on that quality,  he got “Good” or “Excellent” ratings from 45 participants. His opponent, Redding, got a rating of “Excellent” or “Good” on that same quality from 86.7 percent of the lawyers who rated her.  If you assume all 53 lawyers voted on that particular quality,  she got top ratings from  46 attorneys.  So, on that category, it’s essentially a wash.

Let’s look at the Professionalism category.  Redding gets an 84.8 percent rating while Wilkins gets 40.6 percent. If you assume 96 attorneys rated Wilkins on this quality, that means he got top ratings from 39 participants. If you assume 53 attorneys rated Redding on this quality, she got top marks from 45  participants. If my assumptions are correct, Redding gets a slight edge on this category.

But the bar association does not give us any idea of how many voted in each category, or what the geographic breakdown of the participants was. So, it would be quite easy for a cabal of attorneys, ticked off at a certain judge for not letting them have their way, to get together and skew a survey that can be used during a contested reelection campaign.

Let’s look at the ratings for the Skipper Creed seat Judge Creed was rated by 106 attorneys, while his opponent, attorney Bobby McCroskey, was rated by only 74.  (Again, we’re not told if every participant rated each candidate on every category.) On the “integrity” question, Creed got top marks from 57.5 percent of respondents while McCroskey got top marks from 77 percent. If you assume all 106 attorneys who rated Creed voted on this category, he got top marks from 61 respondents.  If you assume all 77 respondents rated McCroskey on this quality, he got top marks from only 57 percent.  So, if my assumptions are correct, Creed outperformed McCroskey here.  But presenting the data in terms of percentages makes it look like McCroskey came out on top. 

My sources tell me that the folks behind “Citizens for a Competent Judiciary”  — the sponsors of the anti-Wilkins mailing — are a bunch of Randolph County attorneys close to Redding.  It’s interesting that the group is pushing so hard against Wilkins — and not Creed.  Both men got “low” rankings in the survey.

The personality differences between the two incumbents likely provide a clue.   Both have a stringent, conservative view of the law.  Creed is very buttoned-down and soft-spoken.  Wilkins, on the other hand — well — if you’re acting like an idiot, he’ll tell you so, to your face.

This is good information for anyone in Moore, Montgomery and Randolph counties.  For readers from other North Carolina counties, review this data carefully to ensure you are not being misinformed about your judges.

Conservatives need to remember that judges like Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, and Antonin Scalia all fared poorly in bar association surveys like this.