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Complaints Against Judges — Judicial Business 2020

Correction Made in November 2021: 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 1,253, a decrease of 225 complaints (down 15 percent) from the number filed in 2019. The number of complainants totaled 1,284, as some of the complaints involved more than one complainant. Litigants accounted for 61 percent of complainants, and prison inmates accounted for 34 percent. Fifty-four percent of the complaints were made against district judges, 24 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 Eleventh Circuit (154 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 (985); other misconduct (507); discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, or other (158); and hostility toward litigant, lawyer, judicial employee, or other (125).

Table 10
Judicial Complaints Commenced, Terminated, and Pending
Fiscal Years 20191 - 2020
  2019 2020
Complaints Commenced 1,478 1253
Complaints Terminated by Final Action 1,158 859
By Withdrawal    
Complaint Withdrawn by Complainant 8 10
Petition for Review Withdrawn 0 0
By Chief Judges with No Further Review    
Dismissed 475 378
Concluded2 29 13
By Circuit Judicial Councils upon Petition for Review of Chief Judge’s Disposition    
Affirmed 556 456
Other Action 0 0
After Report by Special Investigating Committee    
Dismissed 6 2
Other Disposition 3 5
Referred to Judicial Conference 0 0
Remedial Action 2 5
Complaints Pending 606 657
Special Investigating Committee Appointed 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 857 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 (695), the allegations lacked sufficient evidence (546), and the allegations were frivolous (235).

Of the complaints filed in 2020 or pending from previous years, 859 were terminated by final action. Chief judges terminated 391 complaints with no further review, 378 of them by dismissal and 13 by an informal resolution, voluntary resolution, or intervening events. Circuit judicial councils terminated 468 complaints, including 12 terminated after reports by special investigating committees were issued. Nine complaints were terminated because the complainants withdrew them after filing the initial complaints. Pending complaints increased by 8 percent to 657.

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