If you believe a federal judge has engaged in misconduct or has an impairment that prevents them from fulfilling their duties, or has any physical limitation that prevents them from fulfilling these duties, you can file a formal complaint under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act and Rules of Procedure for Judicial Conduct and Disability Proceedings.
All complaints and proceedings related to them are conducted in strict confidence unless otherwise required by law.
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If you wish to file a formal complaint about a judge in Minnesota courts, click here for an official complaint form or write directly to the Commission. However, they can only investigate allegations of unethical behavior, not disagreements over case outcomes or other court issues. When filing your complaint you will need to provide details about their behavior as well as any ethical rules which seem violated in order to make your case.
The Commission only has jurisdiction over currently serving judges, magistrates and judicial candidates who are serving under current jurisdiction; it does not cover federal judges, workers’ compensation administration judges or special masters. Furthermore, all complaints submitted through our process remain strictly confidential – nothing about your complaint will be shared outside.
Your complaint must be filed within 180 days from the date of alleged misconduct, however the Commission will accept extensions due to extraordinary circumstances such as serious health problems, military deployment or imprisonment that prevented you from filing your complaint on time.
When filling out a complaint form, be sure to include details of the judge, relevant dates, and documents supporting your allegations. Also include daytime phone numbers and mailing addresses so the Commission may reach you directly; any documents submitted with your complaint cannot be returned so keep a copy for yourself!
Your letter of complaint must be signed and sworn to in front of a notary public for validation and official record-keeping by the Commission. They will verify both its contents as well as its authorship before signing it off as part of their official record.
After reviewing your complaint, the Commission will make a determination as to whether or not to conduct an investigation into it. If an investigation reveals misconduct, however, the Commission may recommend to the Supreme Court a remedy such as private admonition, public censure, removal from office or involuntary retirement as measures of discipline.
Filing a Complaint
Any citizen who believes a judge has engaged in misconduct or incapacity may file a complaint. The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act and Rules provide guidelines for this process.
Complaints against judges must be in writing and contain concise facts that, if true, would establish violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Ideally, complaints must be filed within two years after the alleged misconduct occurred and should also identify and describe who conducted themselves improperly as well as standing requirements, meaning being either directly affected by what transpired or present when it did so. Simply complaining that a litigant disagreed with an order is not considered to be judicial conduct complaint.
When the circuit chief judge receives a complaint, he or she will review it to assess if its allegations meet certain criteria. They may choose either to dismiss or refer it for investigation by a special committee consisting of circuit and district judges – the latter typically includes both of their chief judges as members.
The committee will carefully consider all complaints received and, if necessary, may order an investigation by staff. If formal charges should be brought against a judge in question, they will notify him or her and schedule a public hearing date; all complaints remain anonymous until formal charges have been brought by the committee against him or her.
The committee may sanction or send its findings and recommendations directly to the circuit judicial council for final action by parliament. Under legislation, any judge who engages in actions or incapacity that interferes with justice administration can be removed from office by parliament, though this usually only occurs after lengthy process; when this occurs, those who originally filed the complaint are informed immediately about it happening.
Whenever a judge violates the Rules of Conduct, there are specific procedures you can take. A hearing panel consisting of several judges from either the Council or specially appointed to investigate is convened to investigate complaints of violations of conduct by judges. At your hearing, you must provide all information that supports your allegations. In addition, you will have the chance to be represented by someone of your choosing during this hearing process. Your chosen individual must be an Iowa voter who is neither related to you, nor has financial stakes in the case. At your hearing, the judge being accused of violating judicial rules will also attend and may be represented by an attorney; you will have an opportunity to question witnesses and present evidence; ultimately the burden of proof lies on you as the complainant and must demonstrate this by showing a preponderance of evidence that violations occurred.
The circuit chief judge will review your complaint to assess if it meets specific criteria. Many are dismissed because they don’t seem warranted for further review by committee, but should that change, committee will direct staff to conduct further investigations of your allegations and file formal charges if needed.
Typically, the outcome of a disciplinary hearing is made public. In rare instances, confidential orders may also be issued; any public orders related to allegations of judicial misconduct or disability complaints will not disclose names of parties and attorneys involved and will only reveal specific instances (for example if a judge is sanctioned other than through private censure or reprimand).
The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act and Rules (links are external) is responsible for this process, so please consult them prior to filing your complaint. Your letter of complaint must be legible and typed; include dates for events which occurred and list any supporting documentation; it should also contain legibility marks (to help track it back if any corrections need to be made).
Appealing a Misconduct Decision
Under certain conditions, you may have the ability to appeal a misconduct decision. To do so, follow the procedures laid out by the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 and Rules of Judicial Conduct.
Complaints must include specific allegations of misconduct or incapacity against a specific judge, and identify that judge as being subject of the complaint. Any allegations which do not specifically name someone will not be reviewed; supporting documentation could include transcripts, video/audio recordings, photographs or written correspondence as appropriate.
Your complaint must generally be filed with the clerk of court where your judge sits, either within their federal circuit (ie: USCA circuit clerk for which your judge presides) or within bankruptcy or district courts – where applicable.
If the court where your judge serves has a special committee that investigates allegations of misconduct or incapacity, please contact it in order to file your complaint. They will conduct their investigation and file their findings with the judicial council.
Once the Judicial Council receives the special committee report, it must review it and issue an order on your complaint. They can either dismiss it, close out its investigation due to intervening events, or find evidence of misconduct or incapacity and refer your case for further proceedings.
If you are appealing a decision in general misconduct complaint, it may be beneficial to speak with an attorney about your rights and options. Please follow the procedures and time limits laid out in the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act and the Rules of Judicial Conduct to make a valid appeal; remember this process cannot be used to contest a judge’s ruling in your case or request they recuse themselves from hearing it; these must be handled through normal court processes or civil appeal filing.