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Complaints Against Judges - Judicial Business 2015

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 2015 was 1,214, a decline of 2 percent from the number filed in 2014. The number of complainants totaled 1,232, as some the complaints involved more than one complainant. Litigants accounted for 51 percent of complainants, and prison inmates accounted for 46 percent. Sixty-two percent of the complaints were made against district judges, 17 percent were against magistrate judges, 17 percent were against circuit judges, 3 percent were against bankruptcy judges, and less than 1 percent were against judges in the Court of Federal Claims. Nearly two-thirds of the complaints (63 percent) originated in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits. The categories of allegations with the most complaints were erroneous decision (962), other misconduct (300), personal bias against the litigant or attorney (297), and conflict of interest (165). Each complaint may have multiple allegations.

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2013 - 2015
  2013 2014 2015
Complaints Commenced 1,223 1,2371 1,214
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,213 1,4681 1,302
By Withdrawal      
Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 4 2 8
Petition for Review Withdrawn 2 0 1
By Chief Judges With No Further Review      
Dismissed 638 9061 804
Concluded2 6 16 7
By Judicial Councils      
Upon Petition for Review of Chief Judge's Disposition      
Chief Judge's Disposition Affirmed 559 5381 477
Other Action 0 3 0
After Report by Special Investigating Committee      
Dismissed 2 3 1
Other Disposition 0 0 0
Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0 43
Remedial Action 2 0 0
Complaints Pending 840 6091 521
Special Investigating Committee Appointed 41 4 4

1 Revised.
2 Concluded due to informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events
3 All four complaints were against the same judge.


In 2015, chief judges dismissed 1,384 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 remained pending for further review. Frequently cited reasons for dismissal included the following: the complaint was directly related to the merits of decisions or procedural rulings (1,131); the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (921); and the allegations were frivolous (352). Multiple reasons may be provided for each complaint dismissed.

Of the complaints filed in 2015 or pending from previous years, 1,302 were terminated by final action. Chief judges terminated 811 complaints, 804 of them by dismissal and 7 by voluntary resolution or intervening events. Judicial councils terminated 482 complaints, 477 of them after the chief judges’ dispositions were affirmed, and 5 after reports by special investigating committees were issued. Eight complaints were terminated because the complainants withdrew them after filing the initial complaints, and one complaint was withdrawn after a petition for review. Because the number of complaints terminated exceeded the number commenced, pending complaints declined 14 percent to 521.

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