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Complaints Against Judges

Under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 351-364, any person alleging that a judge has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or that a judge cannot discharge all the duties of the office because of physical or mental disability, may file a complaint with the clerk of the court of appeals for the circuit in which the judge holds office or, if the judge serves on a national court, with the office specified in that court’s rules. The complaint must concern the actions or capacity of a circuit judge, a district judge, a bankruptcy judge, a magistrate judge, or a judge of a court specified in 28 U.S.C. § 363.

A total of 1,364 complaints were filed in 2012, a 3 percent decline from the previous year. Nearly half of the complainants (48 percent) were prison inmates, and almost the same percentage (47 percent) were litigants. Fifty-nine percent of the complaints were made against district judges, 21 percent against circuit judges, 17 percent against magistrate judges, and 3 percent against bankruptcy judges. Most allegations in the complaints fell in the categories of erroneous decision (833), other misconduct (382), violation of other standards (287), personal bias against the litigant or attorney (258), and racial, religious, or ethnic bias (144). More than half of the complaints originated in the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits.

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2010 - 2012
20101 20111 2012
Complaints Commenced 1,455 1,408 1,364
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,341 1,630 1,352
By Withdrawal      
Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 13 6 7
Petition for Review Withdrawn 0 0 0
By Chief Judges With No Further Review      
Dismissed 742 945 818
Concluded2 15 24 8
By Judicial Councils      
Upon Petition for Review of Chief Judge’s Disposition      
Chief Judge’s Disposition Affirmed 560 652 518
Other Action 10 0 0
After Report by Special Investigating Committee      
Dismissed 1 2 1
Other Disposition 0 0 0
Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0 0
Remedial Action 0 1 0
Complaints Pending 946 724 736
Special Investigating Committee Appointed 4 1 4
1 Revised.
2 Informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events.

Chief judges dismissed 1,265 complaints in whole or in part. This total includes complaints that later were terminated with finality by judicial council orders on petitions for review or that at the end of 2012 were still pending for further review. The reasons most frequently reported by chief judges for dismissal were the following: the complaint was directly related to the merits of decisions or procedural rulings (85 percent); the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (64 percent); and the allegations were frivolous (25 percent). (The percentages total more than 100 percent because multiple reasons may be recorded for each dismissal.)

Of the complaints filed in 2012 or pending from previous years, 1,352 were terminated by final action in 2012—826 by chief judges (with no further review), 519 by judicial councils, and 7 by withdrawal. Of the 826 complaints terminated by chief judges, 818 were terminated by dismissal. Chief judges concluded eight complaints in whole or in part—seven because of intervening events, and one because voluntary corrective action had been taken. Of the 519 complaints terminated by judicial councils, 518 culminated in denials of petitions for review of chief judges’ dismissals. Because the number of complaints commenced surpassed the number terminated, pending complaints increased 2 percent to 736.

For information on complaints filed against judges, see Table 10 and Table S-22.