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Complaints Against Judges — Judicial Business 2019

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 2019 was 1,412, an increase of 51 complaints (up 4 percent) from the number filed in 2018. The number of complainants totaled 1,459, as some of the complaints involved more than one complainant. Litigants accounted for 51 percent of complainants, and prison inmates accounted for 38 percent. Forty-eight percent of the complaints were made against district judges, 30 percent were against circuit judges, 17 percent were against magistrate judges, and 3 percent were against bankruptcy judges. Forty-six percent of the complaints originated in four circuits: the Ninth Circuit (180 complaints), Eleventh Circuit (163 complaints), Fifth Circuit (159 complaints), and Tenth Circuit (143 complaints). The categories of allegations associated with the most complaints were erroneous decision (1,132), other misconduct (371), personal bias against the litigant or attorney (316), and violation of other standards (204).

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 2018 - 2019
  2018 2019
Complaints Commenced 1,3611 1,412
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,0011 1,066
By Withdrawal    
Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 4 7
Petition for Review Withdrawn 0 0
By Chief Judges with No Further Review    
Dismissed 4711 403
Concluded2 20 29
By Circuit Judicial Councils upon Petition for Review of Chief Judge's Disposition    
Affirmed 4951 536
Other Action 0 0
After Report by Special Investigating Committee    
Dismissed 14 6
Other Disposition 0 3
Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0
Remedial Action 1 2
Complaints Pending 6711 632
Special Investigating Committee Appointed 6 10

Note: 87 complaints were concluded by the relevant circuit judicial council in the first instance based on intervening events. Because these complaints did not relate to actions by circuit chief judges or to actions by circuit judicial councils on a special committee report, they are included only in complaints filed and complaints terminated by final action.
1 Revised.
2  Concluded due to informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events.

Chief judges dismissed 1,011 complaints in whole or in part. This total includes complaints that later were terminated with finality by circuit 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 (844), the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (687), and the allegations were frivolous (196).

Of the complaints filed in 2018 or pending from previous years, 1,066 were terminated by final action. Chief judges terminated 432 complaints, 403 of them by dismissal and 29 by informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events. Circuit judicial councils terminated 547 complaints, 11 of them after reports by special investigating committees were issued. Seven complaints were terminated because the complainants withdrew them after filing the initial complaints. Pending complaints decreased by 6 percent to 632.

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