Every two years, Iowa voters are asked to vote on whether justices on the Supreme Court, through judges on the Court of Appeals, District, District Associate and Associate Juvenile Courts should be retained in office. The retention question always appears in even numbered years. The Iowa State Bar Association, in an effort to help the public know how its member attorneys who practice before the judges whose names appear on the ballot feel, conducts its statewide Judicial Performance Evaluation before the election and makes the results public. "The Iowa State Bar Association's Judicial Performance Evaluation represents our effort, as a service to the people and their government, to provide the public with information based on the first-hand observations of its members."
Since Iowa adopted its merit system for selecting judges in 1962, the ISBA has conducted the performance review as a way of giving voters information on which to base their decisions about keeping a judge in office. Under Iowa’s judicial merit selection system, judges are appointed by the governor after going through an extensive interview and evaluation process by the Judicial Nominating Commission. Voters then decide every few years during the November general elections whether the judges should remain in office.
In order to be eligible to rate a judge or justice, attorneys must have appeared before him or her frequently enough that the judge or justice can evaluate the attorney. Attorneys rate the judges on eight (six for appellate court judges) questions related to their professional competence, i.e. knowledge and application of the law, perception of factual issues, attentiveness to arguments and testimony, management and control of the courtroom and promptness of rulings and decisions. The ratings range from 1-5 with 5 being "excellent” and 1 being "very poor.”
They also rate them on four questions related to their demeanor, i.e. avoids undue personal observations or criticisms of litigants, judges and lawyers from the bench or in written orders; decides cases on the basis of applicable law and fact, not affected by outside influence; is courteous and patient with litigants, lawyers and court personnel; and treats people equally regardless of race, gender, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or disability. The ratings on these questions also range from 1 to 5, with 5 being "strongly agree” and 1 being "strongly disagree.”