When we first announced the Judge Conduct Committee (JCC) and began our work, we committed to regular updates on our progress and activities. This is the first of those reports, which we expect to publish about once per quarter.
Since beginning our work in January, the JCC has resolved 11 cases through its deliberative decision making process. These have involved allegations of theft, violating event integrity, significant diplomacy failures, and harassment. Resolutions have included warning letters, suspensions, decertifications, and “no action” findings. The latter occurs when the JCC determines the accused judge is not responsible for misconduct under the Magic Judge Code.
We have about ten open cases at the moment. These are all at various points in the journey toward resolution. Some are in deliberations, others are waiting on statements from people involved, a couple are waiting on the resolution of a case where the Player Investigations Committee (PIC) takes precedence.
Accountability and Flexibility
Reports like this one aid in the transparency of the JCC, and you’ll see them regularly as promised at the outset. However, they’re by no means the only way in which we allow visibility into how the JCC operates and the decisions it makes.
Before a resolution becomes final, we report it to the L4+ judges and the Regional Coordinators Advisory Committee (RCAC). These bodies have a couple days to review, ask questions, and raise any problems they notice prior to it being enacted and communicated to the judge and other people involved. To date, none of our resolutions have been overturned based on questions from these groups, but this step has raised questions which have helped us identify ways to improve the system.
These reports have also changed in the few months since we started our work. We’ve added a “Lessons Learned” section to identify ways in which we expect to improve our process or decision making going forward, highlight what worked in the case at hand, and establish accountability for continuously improving our process.
Our members are publicly known, respected members of our community. The public list of members has led to improved reporting and more direct conversations with judges who can seek out our Committee members and express ideas, concerns, and other meaningful feedback.
We keep a log of our resolved cases which is accessible to all L4+ judges and RCs. The log documents our decisions and relevant information about each case. Because we communicate through a Google Group, our communication (about 700 messages since the start of this year) is tracked so future JCC members can review a case’s specifics if needed.
After the JCC was announced, many judges came forward with strong interest in supporting the process in ways that didn’t necessarily involve taking a seat on the Committee. We’ve found that there are important roles these judges can fulfill as advocates for judges accused or others reporting potential misconduct.
When we notify a judge that we have a concern regarding potential misconduct, that message also gives them the option to identify an advocate. This is so they can have someone they trust to talk to and who also sees everything the Committee sends them. This advocate’s role is intended to ease feelings of intimidation, improve communication with the Committee, and minimize isolation. We also offer people who come forward and report misconduct the same opportunity for very similar reasons. These processes weren’t in our initial plans, but the need was identified by several judges in these past several weeks, and it simply made sense to improve our process. Its use in actual cases so far has been limited, but successful.
We encourage naming L3+ judges as advocates mainly due to their expected degree of experience in investigations and level of comfort in addressing members of the JCC as peers. However, we have not limited this role strictly to L3+ judges.
If a member of the JCC accepts a role as an advocate, their participation in the deliberations of the Committee for that case is as an observer only.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the feedback form. Since going live in early December, we’ve had more than 100 responses to it, or about two new pieces of feedback every few days. I’ve personally read every one of these messages, and many of them have impacts well beyond the operation of the JCC.
Any time we get a “this judge was awesome!” message through the form, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the success of another Judge. We share it with the judge in question, their regional coordinator (RC), and other high-level judges involved in recognition-type projects. Many of those result in Exemplar recognitions or Judge of the Week nominations. About 40% of the feedback form submissions so far are like this.
Another 40% involve problems with customer service, rules knowledge, or other unhappy judge/player/spectator experiences, but aren’t misconduct. These get forwarded to RCs for education.
Occasionally, one of these messages leads us to investigate further.Often, though, the result of that investigation is a clear indication to both the RC and the Chair of the JCC that there was no misconduct involved. In that case, we refer the case to the RC for further education if needed, but spare the full JCC the additional workload. If either the RC or the JCC Chair believe a full deliberation is needed or misconduct likely occurred, the JCC proceeds with it.
If there are lessons to be learned from these (and there are), here’s what judges looking to improve player experiences at their events can do better:
- Make empathy a consistent element in your rulings and customer service.
- Be aware of your own emotional state and how it comes across. If you’ve had a bad day or a bad month, it’s probably showing. Take a break and find some peace and quiet.
- If a player disagrees with your ruling, don’t take it personally, but do take them seriously.
- When you use the phrase, “I’m a judge,” it should not be followed with either the phrase, “so that makes me right,” or, “so you should date me.” (Depending on context, either can be more serious than just a chat from your RC.)
So 40% of our feedback is awesome, and another 40% is less-than-awesome. What about the remainder? Some of them (fewer than ten) raised issues which resulted in JCC cases. The topics of these cases aren’t all that different from the other cases handled by the JCC, but the feedback form is proving an important avenue for the Judge Program to receive this information which might not have come to light otherwise.
The last few responses are data we can’t use. Maybe the judge isn’t identified in a way we can use, or maybe the message just doesn’t make sense. It’s data collection on the Internet, and these things happen. If the message sounds at all serious, though, we of course do our best to follow up, but these messages are also sometimes fully anonymous.
Potential Ongoing Challenges
In the spirit of continuous improvement, there are two specific potential ongoing challenges I’d like to highlight. I’m bringing these up in the hopes that the public acknowledgement of them leads us to more concerted efforts to fix them.
Speed of Resolution
Our guidelines set a goal of an aggressive timeline to complete a case from the first report of a problem. This is a matter of fairness to those reporting potential misconduct and also a matter of fairness to judges accused of misconduct.
For the 11 cases resolved through deliberation, our median time from report to final communication is 26 days. The range is from an unacceptable high of 90 days to the briefest being an expedited case which was resolved the same day it was reported. On average, it feels like we’re doing okay, and our two longest cases had about a month each of additional time due to the incident being reported as the Committee was being formed. Those factors aside, it is clear we could do better in this arena.
Frequency of Abstentions
In our cases resolved and open, we’ve had five different instances of a member of the JCC abstaining (or “recusing themselves”) due to an actual or potential conflict of interest. I feel the reasons thus far are not problematic, but it’s worth noting I account for two of those five instances. These have been good tests of the JCC’s ability to run through a case led by an alternate Chair, but dealing with an incomplete Committee in one quarter of cases is still a fairly high figure. More clearly defining the criteria for abstention should be on our “to do” list.
Thank you for taking the time to read this account of our first few months of operating the JCC. We hope you come back for future updates and hold us accountable for “getting it right” for the judges in the program and the communities we serve.
Until next time, please, be excellent to one another.