Main content

Complaints Against Judges - Judicial Business 2017

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 2017 was 1,270, a decrease of 4 percent from the number filed in 2016. The number of complainants totaled 1,284, as some of the complaints involved more than one complainant. Litigants accounted for 52 percent of complainants, and prison inmates accounted for 41 percent. Fifty-three percent of the complaints were made against district judges, 27 percent were against circuit judges, 16 percent were against magistrate judges, and 4 percent were against bankruptcy judges. More than half of the complaints (58 percent) originated in the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits. The categories of allegations with the most complaints were erroneous decision (967), other misconduct (370), personal bias against the litigant or attorney (279), and delayed decision (121).

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2016 - 2017
  2016 2017
Complaints Commenced 1,3221 1,270
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,1681 871
By Withdrawal    
Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 31 4
Petition for Review Withdrawn 0 0
By Chief Judges With No Further Review    
Dismissed 5221 387
Concluded2 19 27
By Judicial Councils Upon Petition for Review of Chief Judge's Disposition    
Affirmed 621 443
Other Action 0 0
After Report by Special Investigating Committee    
Dismissed 21 9
Other Disposition 1 3
Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0
Remedial Action 31 2
Complaints Pending 4331 636
Special Investigating Committee Appointed 21 18

1 Revised.
2 Concluded due to informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events.


Chief judges dismissed 987 complaints in whole or in part. This total includes complaints that later were terminated with finality by judicial council orders on petitions for review, as well as complaints for which additional review was still possible. Frequently cited reasons for dismissal included the following: the complaint was directly related to the merits of decisions (829); the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (685); and the allegations were frivolous (260).

Of the complaints filed in 2017 or pending from previous years, 871 were terminated by final action. Chief judges terminated 414 complaints, 387 of them by dismissal and 27 by voluntary resolution or intervening events. Judicial councils terminated 457 complaints, 14 of them after reports by special investigating committees were issued. Four complaints were terminated because the complainants withdrew them after filing the initial complaints. Because the number of complaints commenced exceeded the number terminated, pending complaints increased 47 percent to 636.

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