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Complaints Against Judges — Judicial Business 2020

Correction Made in February 2024: Updates to the underlying data resulted in revised totals for 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 2020 was 1,328, a decrease of 84 complaints (down 6 percent) from the number filed in 2019. The number of complainants totaled 1,360, as some of the complaints involved more than one complainant. Litigants accounted for 59 percent of complainants, and prison inmates accounted for 35 percent. Fifty-four percent of the complaints were made against district judges, 25 percent were against circuit judges, 18 percent were against magistrate judges, and 3 percent were against bankruptcy judges. The circuits in which the highest numbers of complaints originated were the Ninth Circuit (162 complaints), Eleventh Circuit (160 complaints), Fourth Circuit (145 complaints), Fifth Circuit (145 complaints), and Sixth Circuit (123 complaints). A complaint may have multiple allegations. The allegations made most frequently were related to merits of decision or ruling (1,037); other misconduct (538); discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or other (175); and hostility toward litigant, lawyer, judicial employee, or other (140).

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 20191 - 2020
  2019 2020
Complaints Commenced 1,458 1,328
Complaints Commenced-Reported After Reporting Deadline  46  
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,479 1,206
    By Chief Judges With No Further Review    
        Complaints Dismissed in Whole or Part 909 717
        Complaints Concluded in Whole or Part ² 28 14
    By Judicial Councils Upon Petition For Review of Chief Judge's Disposition    
        Affirmed and Petition Denied  526 454
        Other Action 0 0
    Action on Special Committee Report    
        Complaint Dismissed 3 1
        Complaints with Corrective Action Taken or Intervening Events 3 5
        Complaints Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0
         Complaints with Remedial Action Taken 2 5
    Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 8 10
Complaints Pending 580 661
Complaint Referred to Special Committee 10 4

Note: In 2019, 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 1,157 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. A complaint may be dismissed for multiple reasons. Frequently cited reasons for dismissal included the following: the complaint was directly related to the merits of decisions (927), the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (760), and the allegations were frivolous (280).

Of the complaints filed in 2020 or pending from previous years, 1,206 were terminated by final action. Chief judges terminated 731 complaints with no further review, 717 of them by dismissal and 14 by an informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events. Ten complaints were terminated because the complainants withdrew them after filing the initial complaints. Pending complaints increased by 5 percent to 661.

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