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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.

The number of complaints filed in 2013 was 1,219, an 11 percent decline from the 2012 total. Litigants accounted for 55 percent of the complaints filed, and prison inmates accounted for 43 percent. The categories of allegations with the most complaints were erroneous decision (879), other misconduct (297), personal bias against the litigant or attorney (259), and conflict of interest (160).

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2011 - 2013
20111 20121 2013
Complaints Commenced 1,409 1,368 1,219
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,631 1,251 1,167
By Withdrawal      
Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 6 7 4
Petition for Review Withdrawn 0 0 2
By Chief Judges With No Further Review      
Dismissed 945 717 594
Concluded2 24 8 6
By Judicial Councils      
Upon Petition for Review of Chief Judge's Disposition      
Chief Judge's Disposition Affirmed 653 518 559
Other Action 0 0 0
After Report by Special Investigating Committee      
Dismissed 2 1 2
Other Disposition 0 0 0
Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0 0
Remedial Action 1 0 0
Complaints Pending 710 827 879
Special Investigating Committee Appointed 1 4 2
1 Revised.
2 Concluded due to informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events.

Chief judges dismissed 1,147 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 were still pending for further review at the end of 2013. Frequently cited reasons for dismissal were the following: the complaint was directly related to the merits of decisions or procedural rulings (86 percent); the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (65 percent); and the allegations were frivolous (19 percent). (The percentages total more than 100 percent because multiple reasons may be recorded for each dismissal.)

Of the complaints filed in 2013 or pending from previous years, 1,167 were terminated by final action in 2013. Of the 600 complaints terminated by chief judges, 594 were terminated by dismissal, and 6 were concluded in whole or in part because of intervening events. Of the 561 complaints terminated by judicial councils, 559 culminated in denials of petitions for review of chief judges' dismissals, and 2 were dismissed after a report by a special investigating committee. Six complaints were terminated because the complaint was withdrawn–four by the complainant after the initial complaint was filed and two after a petition for review was filed. Because the number of complaints commenced exceeded the number terminated, pending complaints rose 6 percent to 879.

The Chief Justice of the United States transferred one complaint from the Fifth Circuit to the DC Circuit.

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