It's fun to make jokes about judges behaving badly, but judicial misconduct is no joking matter.
Occasionally, a judge crosses a line and warrants reprimand. That's why Congress instituted a judicial misconduct reporting procedure in 1980. Under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, anyone can file a complaint in court to report a federal judge's bad behavior.
Before you file a complaint, remember that you need evidence. The chief judge must dismiss a complaint "if it does not identify evidence tending to show misconduct or disability, or if it is conclusively refuted by objective evidence from transcripts, witnesses, or other sources."
Judicial misconduct isn't the same thing as judicial error, and judicial misconduct channels shouldn't be used to report judicial error, (regardless of how extreme the error might be).
Here's a non-exhaustive list of acts Congress categorizes as judicial misconduct:
- Using the judge's office to obtain special treatment for friends or relatives
- Accepting bribes, gifts, or other personal favors related to the judicial office
- Having improper discussions with parties or counsel for one side in a case
- Treating litigants or attorneys in a demonstrably egregious or hostile manner
- Discriminating against attorneys or litigants based on a legally-protected attribute and
- Engaging in partisan political activity or making inappropriately partisan statements
- Soliciting funds for organizations
The Fourth Circuit website includes a form for reporting judicial misconduct. Judicial misconduct complaints must be legible and should be typewritten. A complaint must contain a contact address, a description of the relevant events, a description of when and where the events took place, and any other relevant information that would assist an investigator in verifying the claim. Complaints should be detailed, and identify any transcripts or witnesses that can corroborate the details of the complaint.
The filer must sign the judicial misconduct complaint under penalty of perjury. When the complaint is ready to be filed, it should be sealed in an envelope marked "Complaint of Misconduct" or "Complaint of Disability," and delivered by mail or in person to: Clerk's Office, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1100 East Main Street, Richmond, VA, 23219. Do not write the name of the judge you are complaining about on the envelope.
While we certainly hope you never have cause to complain about a judge's conduct, please keep in mind that this reporting policy only applies to federal judges. If you have a complaint about a state or local judge, check your local rules for the reporting procedure.
- Judicial Misconduct and Disability (Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Judge Kozinski Schools Whiners on Grounds for Judicial Misconduct (FindLaw's Ninth Circuit Blog)
- Sixth Circuit Says Club Membership is Judicial Misconduct (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)