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August 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Public Comment Invited on Judicial Guidelines

The federal Judiciary is seeking public comment on proposed rules on how the federal judicial system should deal with judicial misbehavior and disability.

Nearly 30 draft rules governing judicial conduct and disability proceedings in the federal courts have been posted on the Judiciary’s Internet website for 90 days of public comment. Navigate to the proposed rules from the Judiciary’s home page at www.uscourts.gov; a link to the draft rules is under “What’s New.” Comments on the rules may be sent to JudicialConductRules@ao.uscourts. gov. A public hearing on the draft rules will be held in New York City on September 27, 2007.

The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 authorizes the filing of a complaint alleging that a federal judge has engaged in conduct “prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts.” It also permits complaints that allege conduct reflecting a judge’s inability to perform his or her duties because of “mental or physical disability.”

In 2004, in the wake of Congressional criticism of how complaints against judges had been handled, the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist appointed the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act Study Committee to examine the Act’s implementation and make recommendations.

In September 2006, the Committee, chaired by Justice Stephen Breyer, made its report to Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. The Judicial Conference Executive Committee then asked the Conference Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability “to undertake a prompt, comprehensive review of the Breyer Committee Report with a view toward presenting to the Judicial Conference at its March 2007 session any recommendations that may be ripe for Conference action, information on administrative and other activities related to the report and a status update . . .”

“To meet the reform goals presented by the Breyer Committee,” said Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee chair Judge Ralph K. Winter, “and in order to ensure the consistent application of the Act throughout the Judiciary, our Committee concluded that a set of rules or guidelines governing the proceedings under the Act needed to be drafted and published for comment. For example, the Breyer Report noted that in many critical areas the Act provided little guidance as to the disposition of complaints filed or when chief circuit judges are themselves required to initiate complaints.”

The rules proposed by the Judicial Conduct and Disability Committee and now posted for public comment would establish standards to guide decisions on the merits of complaints; standards for when chief circuit judges should initiate complaints; responsibility for credibility decisions, confidentiality and public access provisions; and procedural rules for proceedings under the Act. On the website, each proposed rule is accompanied by an explanation and/or background information.

After the public comment period, the Committee will send another draft of the rules to the Judicial Conference with a recommendation that the Conference consider it at its March 2008 meeting. Informational and educational programs for judges and staff regarding the rules will be established after their promulgation.