Mandate & Legislative History

Establishment of the Commission

The commission was established by voter approval of a legislative constitutional amendment in the November 1960 election. The provisions establishing the commission were part of a package of judicial administration reforms, heralded as “real protection against incompetency, misconduct or non-performance of duty on the Bench.” The commission office was established and the commission began its work in 1961.

California was the first state to set up a permanent body to address judicial misconduct. Today there are comparable bodies in all fifty states and in the District of Columbia, many of which were initially modeled after “the California Plan.” See Other State Judicial Conduct Organizations.

Purpose of the Commission

The commission is responsible for the investigation of complaints of judicial misconduct and incapacity and for the discipline of judges, former judges, court commissioners and referees. The commission’s authority is limited to investigation and discipline of judicial misconduct, which usually involves conduct in conflict with the standards set forth in the Code of Judicial Ethics.

Legislative History

Proposition 10 the “Administration of Justice” amendment was passed by California voters in November 1960. It amended article VI of the California Constitution to provide for, at section 1a, the “Commission on Judicial Qualifications,” a nine-member body comprised of five judges, two lawyers and two citizens to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct. Section 10b also was added to provide for the removal of judges from office by the Supreme Court on recommendation by the commission for grounds stated in the Constitution. The amendment specified that proceedings before the commission would be confidential until a recommendation was made by the commission to the Supreme Court for removal of the judge from office.

In November 1966, Proposition 1a was approved by the voters. Based on recommendations by the Constitutional Revision Commission, the amendment “simplified and improved” the language concerning the commission. It also added censure as a sanction that could be imposed by the Supreme Court in addition to removal from office.

In November 1976, California voters passed Proposition 7. The Commission on Judicial Qualifications was renamed the Commission on Judicial Performance. A number of other changes were made, including the addition of provisions for the removal or retirement of a Supreme Court justice. Private admonishment, a sanction to be imposed by the commission rather than the Supreme Court, was added. The reference to “habitual intemperance” as grounds for discipline was clarified by the addition of “in the use of intoxicants or drugs.” Another of the enumerated grounds for censure or removal of a judge, “willful and persistent failure to perform judicial duties,” was changed to “persistent failure or inability to perform the judge’s duties.”

In 1988, voters passed Proposition 92, giving the commission authority to open hearings at the request of the respondent judge or when the charges involved moral turpitude, corruption or dishonesty and when to do so would be in the pursuit of public confidence and in the interests of justice. The amendment also provided for public statements by the commission in certain circumstances. Public reproval was added as an intermediate sanction, between censure by the Supreme Court and private admonishment by the commission.  A public reproval could be imposed by the commission with the consent of the judge.

Proposition 190 was passed by the voters in 1994, approving more than a dozen significant changes to the commission. In addition to mandating open hearings in all cases involving formal charges, the amendment conferred the authority for censure and removal determinations upon the commission, rather than the Supreme Court, and transferred the authority for promulgating rules governing the commission from the Judicial Council to the commission. The membership of the commission was increased to eleven members and its composition changed to three judges, two lawyers and six citizens.

In 1998, voters passed Proposition 221, giving the commission shared authority with the superior courts for the investigation and discipline of subordinate judicial officers.