Federal Judicial Misconduct and Disability

Article excerpt

Under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, as amended, any person may file a written complaint alleging that a federal judge has engaged in "conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts" or "is unable to discharge all duties of office by reason of mental or physical disability" with the clerk of the court of appeals, who transmits the complaint to the chief judge of the circuit. The chief judge may also "identify a complaint" in a written order stating reasons. After reviewing a complaint (and perhaps engaging in an appropriately limited inquiry), the chief judge either dismisses the complaint or appoints a special committee.

Most complaints are dismissed. The most frequent statutory ground for dismissal is that a complaint is "directly related to the merits of a decision or procedural ruling." A chief judge may also dismiss a complaint if it alleges conduct or disability that is not covered by the Act, lacks sufficient evidence to raise an inference that misconduct has occurred, or contains allegations that are incapable of being established through investigation; or if a limited inquiry demonstrates that the allegations lack any factual foundation or are conclusively refuted by objective evidence. A chief judge may conclude the proceeding if appropriate corrective action has been taken or intervening events make action no longer necessary. A complainant or judge aggrieved by a final order of the chief judge may petition the circuit judicial council for review .

If a complaint is not dismissed, a special committee is appointed to investigate the allegations and file a written report with the circuit judicial council. The judicial council may dismiss the complaint, certify the disability of a judge, request that a judge voluntarily retire, order that, temporarily for a time certain, no further cases be assigned to a judge, privately censure or reprimand the judge, publicly censure or reprimand the judge, or order other appropriate action. The complainant or the judge may petition the United States Judicial Conference for review of any action taken by a circuit judicial council. A judge cannot be removed under the Act, although the Judicial Conference can refer a complaint to the House of Representatives for consideration of impeachment. …