1. What Is the Commission on Judicial Performance?
The Commission on Judicial Performance is the independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints of judicial misconduct and for disciplining judicial officers.
2. Over Whom Does the Commission Have Authority?
The commission has authority over all active California state court judges and over former judges for conduct while they were active judges. The commission also has authority over court commissioners and referees as explained in Question 10. In addition, the Director-Chief Counsel of the commission is designated as the Supreme Court’s investigator for complaints involving State Bar Court judges.
3. Who Can File a Complaint?
Any individual or group may file a complaint. The commission has received complaints from litigants, attorneys, jurors, court-watchers, court personnel, prisoners, court administrators, members of the public, judges, legislators, and others. Anyone who has knowledge of possible judicial misconduct may file a complaint. The commission also considers complaints made anonymously and matters it learns of in other ways, such as from news articles or from information received in the course of a commission investigation.
4. What Is Judicial Misconduct?
Judicial misconduct usually involves conduct in conflict with the standards set forth in the Code of Judicial Ethics. Some examples of judicial misconduct are rude or abusive demeanor, conflict of interest, abuse of the contempt power, communicating improperly with only one side to a proceeding, delay in decision-making, and commenting on a pending case. Judicial discipline has been categorized according to the Types of Misconduct involved.
5. What Can the Commission Do?
The commission investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and, when warranted, imposes discipline. The commission can issue confidential advisory letters, private admonishments, public admonishments and public censures. In the most serious cases, the commission can order that a judge be removed or retired from office, bar a former judge from receiving judicial appointments or assignments, or find that a court commissioner or referee is ineligible to serve as a subordinate judicial officer.
6. Can the Commission Change a Legal Ruling?
No. The commission does not have authority to direct a judge to take legal action or to reverse a judge’s decision or ruling for judicial error, mistake or other legal grounds. These functions are for the state’s appellate courts. Allegations stemming from a judge’s rulings or exercise of discretion ordinarily do not provide a basis for commission action, and personal dissatisfaction with a legal ruling is not grounds for investigation of a judge.
7. Can the Commission Help Me with My Case?
No. The commission cannot provide legal assistance or advice to individuals or intervene in litigation on behalf of a party. If you need advice or assistance about what to do next concerning your case or if you seek to change the outcome of the case, you should consult a lawyer immediately.
Under the California Constitution and the rules governing the commission, complaints to the commission and commission investigations are confidential. The commission ordinarily cannot confirm or deny that a complaint has been received or that an investigation is under way. If formal charges are filed, the case becomes public.
10. Can the Commission Handle Complaints About Court Commissioners or Referees?
Yes. The commission shares authority with the superior courts to investigate and discipline subordinate judicial officers – attorneys employed by California’s state courts to serve as court commissioners and referees. Complaints about court commissioners or referees must first be directed to the presiding judge of the court in which the matter was heard. If you want the commission to review the local court’s final action on your complaint against a court commissioner or referee, you must file a written request with the commission within 30 days after the date the notice of the local court’s action on the matter was mailed.
11. Does the Commission Handle Complaints About Attorneys?
12. Does the Commission Have Jurisdiction over Temporary Judges?
No. Judges pro tem are attorneys temporarily serving as judicial officers. The State Bar of California has jurisdiction over attorneys. Although temporary judges are not employed by the courts, you may wish to bring a complaint about a judge pro tem to the attention of the presiding judge for consideration in making future appointments.
13. Can the Commission Consider Complaints About Private Judges?
No. The commission has no authority over former judges serving as private judges. The commission’s jurisdiction over former judges is limited to their conduct before retirement.
14. Does the Commission Have Jurisdiction over Retired Judges Sitting on Assignment?
No. The commission has jurisdiction over retired judges only for their conduct prior to retirement. The Temporary Assigned Judges Program of the Judicial Council has the authority to review complaints about retired judges sitting on assignment.