Thirteenth Judicial District - Sedgwick County Judge
Honorable James Craig Dolezal
Retention Year: 2020
Recommendation: Does Not Meet Performance Standard
The Thirteenth Judicial District Commission on Judicial Performance finds that the Honorable James Craig Dolezal DOES NOT MEET PERFORMANCE STANDARDS. Five members of the Commission voted that Judge Dolezal does not meet performance standards, while one voted that he does meet performance standards (three members did not participate and there is one vacancy on the Commission).
Judge Dolezal has been serving as the Sedgwick County Court Judge for three years. This is a part-time position. Judge Dolezal is a lay judge with no prior formal legal training or experience. The Commission conducted an interim evaluation in the spring of 2019, which identified significant deficiencies in the areas of application and knowledge of the law, communications, diligence, and case management. As a result of these deficiencies, the Commission recommended that Judge Dolezal complete a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) focused on mastering legal procedure. As part of the PIP, Judge Dolezal observed other judges in the courtroom and had a senior judge observe and critique some of his own courtroom proceedings. He has sought the continued guidance and mentorship of that senior judge from time to time. He has also developed written tools to aid him on the bench and availed himself of bench book materials available to judges. Overall, the Commission found that Judge Dolezal did satisfactorily follow the PIP, although it notes that he did not follow the Commission’s recommendation that he begin regularly utilizing written orders, rather than making only oral rulings. While admittedly the types of cases that usually come before Judge Dolezal are of a nature that oral rulings are often sufficient, the Commission felt that developing and using written orders would assist Judge Dolezal in honing his skills. Nonetheless, it was evident that Judge Dolezal took the Committee’s feedback to heart, has made concerted efforts to improve his performance since the interim evaluation, and remains committed to continued learning and professional development. Indeed, Judge Dolezal’s receptiveness to constructive feedback and willing attitude are notable strengths. However, the Commission continues to have concerns. Of the judicial performance criteria that the Commission is tasked with evaluating, the areas of greatest concern continue to be legal knowledge and communication skills, while the areas of greatest strength are integrity and judicial temperament. By all accounts and based upon the Commission’s interactions and observations, Judge Dolezal is kind, fair, and even tempered. The Commission does not believe any available additional training is likely to remedy the identified deficiencies in a timely manner.
The Commission conducted two personal interviews with Judge Dolezal. It also reviewed transcripts and recordings of court proceedings; written materials, including a self-evaluation and orders issued; an appellate order reversing one of Judge Dolezal’s rulings in part; and interim survey results. The Commission was unable to consider subsequent survey results due to an insufficient number of responses.
Prior to his appointment in 2017, Judge Dolezal was a semi-retired financial advisor and consultant.
Judge James Craig Dolezal’s Response:
A County Court’s Jurisdiction is limited to lesser crimes and misdemeanors. The knowledge and experience required of a county judge is less than that of a judge in a higher court, and the satisfactory performance standards for all trial judges measured by the expected legal background and experience in the court room.
Over the last three years, as a lay judge, extensive legal knowledge and experience has been acquired to adequately perform in the position. I believe my overall performance is satisfactory. Justice continues to be served and the public trust and confidence has been maintained. I am committed and confident in my abilities.