Lawdragon Web site will lift veil on judges
Saturday March 4, 8:24 am ET
By Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The "secret society'' of
U.S. judges is about to be invaded by a Web site that lets people who have
appeared before them rate judges in the first such public forum.
The tooth-comb scrutiny will come from lawdragon.com, run by Katrina
Dewey, an attorney and former editor of the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the largest U.S. legal daily newspaper.
Lawdragon set out last summer to become the first Web site to allow legal professionals and clients to evaluate the nation's 1.1 million lawyers and judges.
"I thought it was important to ask the tough questions and to say when they did a bad job,'' Dewey said of her fellow attorneys. "You might want to know that they are lazy or not prepared. These are things that you want to know whether you are a litigator or a juror or a client.''
Diane Karpman, a nationally recognized legal ethics expert, praised the site, saying: "The reason that Lawdragon is so good is that it provides the public and profession with education about our judges, which is basically like a secret society.''
Next week, http://lawdragon.com begins posting thousands of evaluations of judges and lawyers submitted by colleagues, clients and legal watchdogs -- a sort of Amazon.com of legal professionals.
Federal judges and most state judges come to the bench as political appointees. Federal judges keep their posts for life.
State judges stand for reelection but rarely face opposition even if lawyers believe them to be incompetent, said Karpman.
"We live in an era where you can't find out a lot about our judges,'' Karpman said. "Most of the public goes to the polls and reelects judges without a clue, and these are the people who enforce the laws.''
Karpman said although most bar associations do some form of judicial
evaluations, that information is usually available only to the legal community.
Federal judges, who keep their posts for life, can be removed only by impeachment and were once protected by a law barring lawyers from publicly criticizing them because such speech was seen as a means of judge shopping.
The American Bar Association rates federal judge candidates as "well-qualified,'' "qualified'' or "not qualified'' before they take the bench but does no other evaluations, ABA spokeswoman Nancy Slonim said.
Los Angeles attorney Stephen Yagman, who set a 1995 precedent by
removing the bar to lawyerly speech about judges, said an open marketplace of unqualified opinion may not be the best way to rate judges.
"You need to talk to someone who has been in front of that judge and many other judges of the same court so there is the direct observations as well as a comparative evaluation,'' Yagman said.
Dewey, who left the Daily Journal in 2005 after nine years as editor, hired eight legal journalists to solicit evaluations of attorney and judges, then to vet them to insure that each contributor has standing as a client, opposing counsel, or qualified observer of the person they evaluated.
Lawdragon.com now receives about 100 evaluations per day and last week scored 400,000 hits for its legal news content and lawyer directory.
The one-page evaluation, which can by submitted online, promises
confidentiality but requires evaluators to reveal their names to Lawdragon staff.
The form asks evaluators to rate attorneys and judges on their expertise, professional dealings with other lawyers and clients and whether clients get their money's worth.
The site also plans to offer a comparison of attorneys fees.
"This is a legal community online where you can have your voice heard,'' Dewey said. "At Lawdragon, they will be able to find the best lawyer, the cheapest one or somebody that can see them right away.''
"The quarterly magazine provides us with great visibility for the Web site. Because many of the decision makers in the legal profession are not in the Internet era yet, it was important to provide a forum that they felt comfortable with.''
Next? Dewey envisions dossiers on all 8 million legal service providers worldwide. "We believe there is a great opportunity ... as business becomes more global, as people do business in countries they are not familiar with and in practice areas they don't know.''
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