The Commission reviews complaints concerning the misconduct of judges of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Examples of judicial misconduct include but are not limited to the following: rude, abusive and improper treatment of lawyers, witnesses, jurors, court staff or others, showing bias toward anyone in the courtroom based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, etc., and sleeping or drunkenness or other improper conduct while on the bench. Judicial misconduct also may include improper off-the-bench conduct such as: criminal behavior, improper use of a judge’s authority, publicly commenting on a pending or expected court case, communicating with only one party in a proceeding or court case unless permitted by law, and giving or receiving bribes or favors.
The Complaint Review Process
Although the Commission has no prescribed format for lodging a complaint, it does have a suggested complaint form citizens may use. The Commission will consider information concerning possible misconduct from any source or on its own initiative, and will consider complaints made anonymously. The Commission prefers, but does not require, that a complaint be in writing and be as specific as possible. Receipt of a complaint is acknowledged.
If the Commission determines that insufficient facts exist to warrant an investigation or upon initial review the Commission determines that the complaint is unfounded, the complaint will be dismissed accordingly. If the Commission determines that a matter falls within its jurisdiction, it may order an investigation. Commission investigations are conducted by the staff and may include contacting witnesses, reviewing court records and other documents and observing courtroom proceedings. After investigation, the Commission has several options. If the allegations are found to be untrue or cannot be substantiated, the Commission will dismiss the matter without any action against the judge, and advise the complainant or source accordingly. If the investigation substantiates the compliant, the Commission may resolve a matter through an informal conference with the judge involved, or the Commission may initiate formal disciplinary action against a judge. Complainants are also notified, though the nature of the action taken is not divulged, when the Commission has resolved a matter.
The Commission usually meets once a month to review all new complaints that have been received and to discuss the progress of on-going investigations. The Commission does not have jurisdiction to review judicial decisions or errors of law and does not provide legal advice to citizens or represent clients. The Commission cannot consider complaints against judges in other jurisdictions, federal or administrative law judges, magistrate judges of the Superior Court, attorneys, and Court personnel. The Commission cannot remove a judge from a case and have a new judge appointed.
In considering claims of misconduct, the Commission looks to the American Bar Association Code of Judicial Conduct (2012) as adopted by the District of Columbia Joint Committee on Judicial Administration, along with the advisory opinions of the Committee on Codes of Conduct for US Judges, and the advisory opinions of the District of Columbia Courts’ Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. Judges under its jurisdiction are deemed to be on notice of the Commission’s published actions as well.
The Commission conducts its proceedings pursuant to Rules which appear in 28 District of Columbia Municipal Regulations Chapter 20, amended December 21, 2007.