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Judges all pass, but racial disparities linger

Under Missouri’s current pass-fail format for judicial evaluations, nonpartisan judges up for retention in November did uniformly well.

Under the surface, attorneys still have widely diverging opinions of the judges before whom they appear. But the current evaluation process, virtually identical to the one used in 2020, puts as little emphasis as possible on those differences — and the biases they may harbor. 

The Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee on Sept. 27 released the results of its evaluations of 54 judges up for retention on the Nov. 8 ballot. It marks the second election cycle in a row in which all the judges were held to meet overall judicial standards.

Larry Tucker, a retired partner at Armstrong Teasdale and chair of the review committee, said during a video press conference that the findings show Missouri has “outstanding judges at every level.”

“The Nonpartisan Court Plan is working,” he said.

The 21-member review committee — an independent body that is funded and publicized by The Missouri Bar — doesn’t explicitly recommend whether voters should retain judges or not. Instead, committee members vote on whether the judges meet judicial standards, based on surveys of lawyers, as well as juror surveys and samples of their writing. That raw data is provided online at

“Now, more so than ever before, Missouri voters have more objective information to help them cast their vote when it comes to judges up for retention,” Tucker said. “The Judicial Performance Review Committee’s findings offer an alternative to negative political ads, spurred by partisan politics and campaign money.”

The heart of the evaluation is the survey of attorneys who have appeared before the judges, who rate them on a 1-to-5 scale in a variety of categories, ranging from their courtroom demeanor to the promptness and correctness of their rulings. The survey includes 14 categories for appellate judges and 19 for trial judges.

Tucker said that, as in past years, the bar evaluators internally averaged each judge’s scores and used an aggregate score of 2.85 as an approximate lower boundary for having met judicial standards. The bar doesn’t publish those aggregate scores, but calculations by Missouri Lawyers Media show that the state’s appellate judges averaged 4.27 this year, which is virtually identical to the 2020 average. Trial judges’ figures were down a bit, averaging 4.40 this year versus 4.51 in 2020.

Attorneys’ opinions of the judges appeared to be harsher this year. Five trial judges and two appellate judges this year had composite scores that fell below 4 points. In 2020, just two trial judges had aggregate scores in the 3-point range.

The two lowest overall averages in the state went to two Black judges in St. Louis: David Mason, who had an average score of 3.19, and Barbara Peebles, who was rated at 3.20. They were also the only two judges with individual scores in some categories that fell below the committee’s rough cutoff of 2.85.

Five other judges of color, including Black judges as well as those of Asian and Middle Eastern descent, had an average score of 4.15. Among them is Judge Robin Ransom, who was named last year as the first Black woman on the Missouri Supreme Court and had an overall score of 4.08. White judges averaged 4.44.

Racial disparities in judicial evaluations have long been a concern. A 2019 study by the Mound City Bar Association looked at evaluations from 2014 to 2018 and found that Black judges had an average score of 3.74, compared to 4.12 for whites. 

And in 2019, then-Chief Justice George W. Draper III called out the evaluation process in his speech at The Missouri Bar’s annual meeting, saying there was “unprecedented weaponization” of the evaluations against Black judges. Draper’s wife, Judy Draper, who is of African American and Korean decent, lost her retention election as a St. Louis County associate judge in 2018 after seven committee members voted that she did not meet the necessary standard. 

Later that year, the Supreme Court deleted a requirement that the total votes cast for and against judges be publicly released. As a result, the evaluation committee only releases the result of the committee’s vote, not the vote itself.

The committee also removes identifying information about the judges to prevent their name, race, gender or location from influencing the committee’s decision — though, of course, they are reviewing surveys by attorneys who are well aware of those factors.

There was only a slight difference between male and female judges’ ratings. According to Missouri Lawyers Media’s figures, the 32 male judges averaged 4.39, while the 23 female judges averaged 4.33. In 2020, the genders effectively tied. Platte County’s average score was highest at 4.76, while the city of St. Louis had the lowest score at 4.12.

The committee reviewed a total of 56 judges, but results for two retiring judges were not released. The committee did publish reviews of former Associate Circuit Judges Tim Flook in Clay County and Jerry Harmison in Greene County, but both were recently elevated to the circuit bench and won’t appear on the November ballot.  

RELATED: All judges get thumbs up in performance reviews 

Aggregate ratings of nonpartisan judges

The Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee found that every nonpartisan judge appearing on the Nov. 8 ballot met the necessary standards to be retained in office. More information is available at

Missouri Supreme Court

Zel M. Fischer     4.36

Robin Ransom    4.08


Court of Appeals Eastern District

Kelly C. Broniec  3.90

Thomas C. Clark II   4.33

Michael E. Gardner          3.56

John P. Torbitzky              4.23


Court of Appeals Southern District

Don E. Burrell Jr.               4.24

Jack Goodman   4.76


Court of Appeals Western District

Alok Ahuja           4.56

Karen Mitchell    4.48

Mark Pfeiffer      4.29

Douglas Thomson            4.47


Clay County Circuit Court

Circuit Judges

Shane T. Alexander          4.02

Associate Circuit Judges

Timothy Flook*  4.27

Karen Krauser     4.22


Greene County Circuit Court

Associate Circuit Judges

Jerry Harmison* 4.69

T. Todd Myers 4.68

Margaret Palmietto         4.40

Mark Powell       4.15


Jackson County Circuit Court

Circuit Judges

S. Margene Burnett 4.15

Adam L. Caine    4.68

Sarah A. Castle   4.54

Joel P. Fahnestock            4.39

Jennifer Phillips  4.36

Bryan Round       3.85

J. Dale Youngs 4.41

Jerri Zhang          4.34

Associate Circuit Judges

Jessica Agnelly   4.63

Kea Bird-Riley     4.17

Jeffrey Bushur    4.42

Susan Long          4.63

Twila Rigby         4.41

Mary Frances Weir           4.76

R. Travis Willingham 4.89


Platte County Circuit Court

Circuit Judges

Thomas C. Fincham          4.76

W. Ann Hansbrough 4.77

Associate Circuit Judges

Megan Benton   4.75


St. Louis Circuit Court

Circuit Judges

John Bird             4.83

Bryan Hettenbach            4.35

David Mason      3.19

Christopher McGraugh    4.46

Michael Mullen  4.70

Associate Circuit Judges

Barbara Peebles 3.20


St. Louis County Circuit Court

Circuit Judges

Jason Dodson     4.70

Thomas Albus     4.69

William M. Corrigan         4.51

Ellen Levy            4.32

Associate Circuit Judges

Mondonna Ghasedi          3.59

Joseph L. Green 3.86

John Lasater       4.62

Amanda Bundren McNelley           4.25

Jeffrey P. Medler              4.62

Julia Pusateri Lasater       4.63

Ellen Wyatt Dunne           4.59


* Judge recently elevated to circuit bench and won’t appear on November ballot.

Source: Missouri Judicial Performance Review Committee. Calculation of aggregate scores by Missouri Lawyers Media.