Here we are again. Some of you are probably noticing this report isn’t exactly quarterly. In fact it’s only the second report like this we’ve prepared this year. That’s due in part to the moderately low degree of activity we’ve had. If this trend continues through the remainder of the year, the JCC will have resolved about 30 formal cases in its first year of activity in addition to filtering through about 250 pieces of individual feedback concerning good and not-so-good judge behaviors. It’s been a long road, and we’ve learned a great deal. It isn’t quite the time to wrap up the year and thank our Committee members for their first term completed, but that time is fast approaching. What have we been up to in the past five months or so? I’m glad you asked…
Update on Caseload and Activity
The JCC has had a significant drop-off in caseload in the past several months. That’s one of the reasons this report hasn’t been prepared on a quarterly basis. Since our last report at the end of April, the JCC has resolved about a dozen cases. That means there were just about as many resolved in the last six months as in the first three months. The specific circumstances of each case vary, and the relatively small number means there aren’t significant trends we can identify in terms of where these cases originate or their circumstances. Resolutions have included the full range of possibilities – no action, warning letter, probation (newly added as a possibility, described below), suspension, and decertification.
At the end of April, we had about ten open cases and now we’re at about half that. Some cases persist much longer than we’d like, but the most severe issues continue to be addressed promptly by almost everyone involved.
New Resolution Type: Probation
This is a new resolution type we’ve created for situations where a suspension would be counterproductive. Probation is intended to give a judge a chance to demonstrate that they’re motivated and dedicated to changing a problematic behavior, while also keeping that judge involved in the community.
This also gives us a moderate middle ground between a warning letter and a suspension. Along these lines, we’ve also revised our guidelines to better align possible suspension lengths with the possibility of a suspended judge lapsing due to inactivity. We want to carefully and consciously approach situations where a suspension is effectively identical to demotion or decertification.
Part of our approach to this issue was informed by lessons learned in the supplemental activities that L3 candidates have been assigned after failing to advance.
Interaction with the Player Investigations Committee
When a player is disqualified, the Player Investigations Committee is the body that recommends to WotC whether that player is suspended and for how long. When that player is also a judge, the PIC communicates with the JCC as the case proceeds. The JCC has the option to simply defer to the PIC’s resolution, but the JCC can also review the issue and add its own resolution if there is a specific issue that also relates to the person’s judge status. Since our last report, both of these possible outcomes have occurred.
Oversight – How does it work?
As we mentioned in our April report, our process involves the Regional Coordinators Advisory Committee (RCAC) as a way of ensuring accountability. We also share our resolutions with the L4+ judges to ensure they’re aware as the Judge Program’s leadership and can flag any problems they see. At this point, there has been fairly minimal activity when we send a resolution to the RCAC and L4+ judges. This may be just that we’re getting all of the things done right, or that both of these groups include some members of the JCC (Scott, Cristiana, and myself among the L4+; Johanna, Michael, Cristiana, Scott, and the involved judge(s) RC among the RCAC) leading to fewer surprises.
That said, as the JCC’s composition changes in the next session (coming up at the end of the year, as designed at the outset), this may be an area where we can see more involvement and feedback regarding JCC decisions.
Update on Feedback Form Responses
The Magic Judge Feedback Form continues to see responses come in on a regular basis. When I wrote this report a week ago, the form had just over 80 new responses come through since the end of April. That means we had about two responses every few days. We had also seen modest spikes of responses coming in around the week of a new set’s release, or in the days following especially large Grand Prix, but the stream of feedback was about steady.
Until the Reddit post, the content of the feedback had taken a turn for the more critical, which may be in part due to the expansion of the Exemplar Program to allow recognitions from Level 2 judges. Just under 1/3 of the feedback we received since the end of April is positive, and many of those have been turned into Exemplar recognitions through a hand-off to the judge’s RC.
However, about 90% of the feedback coming in the Reddit-related flood of messages has been players, store owners, and other judges celebrating the success and unsung awesomeness of judges from around the world.
I know it’s “just a Reddit post”, but I’d like to take a moment to thank Espen for making it. Anyone on Reddit could have posted the form, and several others do when a problem gets raised, but something in how it was presented this time resonated with players at the right moment and got many of them to express directly an appreciation which is so often is left unstated.
It sounds like a small thing, but when a lot of what the JCC does involves misconduct on the part of trusted members of our community, it means a lot to see this flood of positive feelings rush in, with a sense that it’s only a tiny fraction of the positive impact judges create for others. (And yes, I’ve already used this as one of my Exemplar recognitions in Wave 4, open now as noted here!)
We see relatively few truly serious issues reported through the feedback form (fewer than ten of our 100+ messages since April), but when they are reported, they’re dealt with swiftly.
There are a couple common patterns of the “not serious misconduct, but not awesome” complaints that have emerged from among the negative feedback we’ve seen through the form:
1. Unkind interactions on social media, especially Facebook and sometimes Twitter. Please, just be nice; and don’t feed the trolls. Very rarely will something of this nature rise to the level of true misconduct, but each negative interaction drags us all down a little. If you need some guidance on how to apply Wheaton’s Law to your own use of social media, here’s an article I didn’t write.
2. Professionalism in appearance and general attitude in rulings. Keep your uniform tidy and make sure you’re presenting an image you’d be proud to see associated with the Judge Program. Again, not misconduct, but it comes up in fairly regular intervals.
The feedback form has become a common reference for threads on judge performance and behavior but, as Espen demonstrated, we can do more. In the coming months, you may see business cards with the Feedback Form’s information as we get them printed and distributed to RCs. An early version of this card was created with a QR code linked to the form. This was slick looking, but moderately useless. The next version will scrap the QR code for a simple url.
Back in 2012, Andy Heckt shared global guidelines for the Judge Program regarding interactions with minors. As the guidelines haven’t been shared widely or consistently in some time, it’s appropriate for them to reside alongside the Magic Judge Code here on our page. This isn’t a policy change. As Andy noted when he shared them a few years ago, “these guidelines are to help the perception judges have as stewards of the Magic community where we interact with non-adults, for the well-being of all involved.”
The Challenge of Burnout and the Next Generation of the JCC
In law enforcement agencies, the position of highest turnover is often the internal affairs unit (in the USA, in other nations it’s called “internal investigations” or “professional standards”). There are many reasons for this. Few things are as disheartening as finding dishonesty or dishonor in the ranks of those charged with upholding integrity as a central element of their membership in an organization. There is potential stigma associated with investigating your peers, it jeopardizes trusting relationships and casts a pall on normal social interactions that would otherwise be relaxed or lighthearted.
I want to take a moment and be very clear here: the JCC isn’t law enforcement. Not even close to it. If there’s any likelihood of law enforcement involvement in a case, we take basic steps to protect the Judge Program, step aside to avoid interfering with any investigation, and let the legal system resolve the issue.
But there is a similarity to the challenge of internal affairs units we’ve felt in the JCC. At least I have. We do have some controls for it. For instance, we have provisions for a member abstaining when they’re particularly close to a person involved in a case. We’ve used that tool rather infrequently, and appropriately, in about one sixth of our cases thus far. The JCC also distributes the investigative burden and shares it with the RC corps and among its members internally as needs arise (such as language barriers). But the cases take their toll nonetheless. It’s a tough responsibility to take on, but I’ve also found it fully worthwhile.
We anticipated this at the outset, and built in a process to select the full complement of JCC members with each new year. This allows the JCC to give a break to members who have other priorities or interests, and it spreads the opportunities and burdens of the duty among the Judge Program’s leaders.
So, if you’re a L3+ judge, here’s your opportunity. In case you missed it in that sentence, the application window for the next JCC term is now open, and the application form is here. The application window will be open until the end of November. In early December, the next set of JCC members will be selected by the L4+ judges from among the applicants, those selections will be announced, and the transition will continue through the end of the year.
We’re using a Google Form for it this time as we received some feedback that a JudgeApps event (which we used last time) was less private than some applicants preferred in discussing their qualifications. When you apply for the 2016 term, expect that the L4+ judges will be able to see your application