Filing a Complaint

Online Complaint Instructions and Form  Printable Complaint Form

How Do I File a Complaint?

Complaints must be in writing. You may use the commission’s Online Complaint Form, Printable Complaint Form, or write a letter to the commission. Complaints not submitted online must be submitted to the commission office:

455 Golden Gate Avenue, Suite 14400
San Francisco, California 94102

You may fax a complaint under 10 pages to (415) 557-1266. The commission does not accept complaints by phone. If you have a disability that prevents you from submitting a written complaint, please contact the commission’s office to discuss how this office can best accommodate your needs.

If your complaint is about a subordinate judicial officer (an attorney employed by the court to serve as a court commissioner or referee), your complaint must first be directed to the court in which the subordinate judicial officer serves. If you are unsatisfied with the court’s response to your complaint, you may submit your complaint to the commission, within 30 days of the mailing of the court’s response.

See Overview of Commission Proceedings and Commission Proceedings Chart for further information.

Can the Commission Handle a Complaint About Any Judge?

No. The commission’s jurisdiction includes all judges of California’s superior courts and the justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.  The commission also has jurisdiction over former judges for conduct prior to retirement or resignation.  Additionally, the commission shares authority with the superior courts for the oversight of court commissioners and referees. The Director-Chief Counsel of the commission is designated as the Supreme Court’s investigator for complaints involving the judges of the State Bar Court. However, the commission does not have authority over federal judges, workers’ compensation judges, judges pro tem or private judges. (See Questions 10 through 14 on the FAQ’s page for further information.)

What Should Be in My Complaint?

  • Name of the judge, court commissioner or referee
  • Court in which the judicial officer serves
  • Case type, name, and number, if the conduct involves a case, and your relationship to the case
  • Date or dates on which the conduct occurred
  • Detailed description of the action or behavior that you believe is misconduct
    • A complaint should not simply state conclusions, such as “the judge was rude” or “the judge was biased.” Instead, the complaint should fully describe what the judicial officer did and said. If a court document, such as a minute order or transcript, or an audio or video recording shows the misconduct, you may submit a copy (do not send original documents) or mention it in your complaint.
    • An error in a judge’s decision or ruling is not, by itself, misconduct. A complaint that describes a legal error, but does not describe judicial misconduct, will not be investigated.  For example, allegations that a judge has wrongfully excluded evidence, imposed an improper sentence, awarded custody to the wrong party, incorrectly awarded spousal or child support, incorrectly resolved a legal issue, or believed perjured testimony do not generally constitute misconduct.
    • It is not necessary to provide legal analysis or a discussion of the applicable canons of the Code of Judicial Ethics.  What is needed is a full statement of facts describing the judicial officer’s misconduct.
  • Names and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the events described
  • If your complaint is about a court commissioner or referee, provide copies of your correspondence to and from the local courts; your complaint must be received within 30 days of the mailing of the local court’s response

As a further resource, you may view fictitious examples of complaints that would warrant further inquiry, and could, if proven by clear and convincing evidence, result in a finding of judicial misconduct.

What Types of Conduct Does the Commission Investigate?

Some examples of judicial misconduct are rude, abusive, and improper treatment of lawyers, litigants, witnesses, jurors, court staff or others, failure to disqualify when the law requires, receipt of information about a case outside the presence of one party, abuse of contempt or sanctions, and delay in decision-making. Judicial misconduct may include off-the-bench conduct such as criminal behavior, improper use of a judge’s authority, publicly commenting on a pending or expected court case, and giving or receiving bribes or favors. Conduct for which discipline has been imposed has been categorized by Types of Misconduct.

The commission’s prior discipline provides many examples of misconduct.  The Public Discipline Database may be searched by types of misconduct.  The Summaries of Private Discipline also describe types of misconduct.

What if I Think the Judge’s Ruling Was Wrong?

An error in a judge’s decision or ruling, by itself, is not misconduct. Appeal may be the only remedy for such an error, or there may be no remedy. The commission is not an appellate court. The commission’s authority is limited by law to investigating the complaint and, if appropriate, imposing discipline. The commission does not have the authority to change a judge’s decision or ruling or to issue orders in any case, including ordering anyone to be released from jail, granting a new trial, disqualifying a judge from hearing a case, assigning a new judge to a case, or granting or changing custody, visitation or child support orders. Neither the commission nor its staff is authorized to give legal advice or respond to requests for assistance with individual legal matters.

What Happens After I File My Complaint?

Each complaint is acknowledged by letter when it is received at the commission office. The commission considers each complaint and determines whether sufficient facts exist to warrant an investigation or whether the complaint is unfounded and should not be pursued. Until the commission has authorized an investigation, staff does not contact the judge or court personnel; however, to assist the commission in its initial review of a complaint, the commission’s legal staff will research any legal issues and may obtain additional relevant information from the complainant.  The commission’s procedures are explained in Overview of Commission Proceedings.

How Long Will It Take the Commission to Reach a Decision on My Complaint?

It is difficult to predict how long it will take for the commission to reach a final decision regarding a particular complaint. Some complaints can be handled quickly; others are more complex and take more time.

Will I Be Told What Action the Commission Has Taken on My Complaint?

Each person who submits a complaint is notified in writing after the commission has reached a final decision regarding the complaint. Unless public discipline has been issued, the complainant will be advised either that the commission has closed the matter or that appropriate corrective action has been taken, the nature of which is not disclosed. When public discipline is issued, the notice of such discipline is provided to the complainant.

Are Complaints Treated Confidentially?

The California Constitution and the rules governing the commission provide for confidentiality of complaints and investigations. During the investigation process, considerable effort is made to protect complainants’ and witnesses’ identities. If the matter is sufficiently serious to warrant the filing of formal charges, the case becomes public and the charges and all subsequently filed documents are made available to the public, and any hearings in the matter are open to the public. A complainant may be called to testify at the hearing.