The commission may impose private discipline after an investigation and after the judge has had an opportunity to comment on the allegations. Advisory letters and private admonishments are confidential. However, the commission’s rules provide that the person who lodged the complaint is to be advised that appropriate corrective action has been taken, the nature of which is not disclosed. The California Constitution also provides that, upon request of the governor of any state, the President of the United States, or the Commission on Judicial Appointments, the commission is to provide the requesting authority with the text of any private admonishment or advisory letter issued to a judge who is under consideration for a judicial appointment.
If the commission determines that improper conduct ocurred, but the misconduct was relatively minor, the commission may issue an advisory letter to the judge. In an advisory letter, the commission advises caution or expresses disapproval of the judge’s conduct. As noted by the California Supreme Court in Oberholzer v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1999) 20 Cal.4th 371, 393: “Advisory letters may range from a mild suggestion to a severe rebuke.” An advisory letter may be issued when the impropriety is isolated or relatively minor, or when the impropriety is more serious but the judge has demonstrated an understanding of the problem and has taken steps to improve. An advisory letter is especially useful when there is an appearance of impropriety. An advisory letter might be appropriate when there is actionable misconduct offset by substantial mitigation.
When more serious misconduct is found, the commission may issue a private admonishment. A private admonishment consists of a notice sent to the judge containing a description of the improper conduct and the conclusions reached by the commission. Private admonishments are designed in part to correct problems at an early stage in the hope that the misconduct will not be repeated or escalate, thus serving the commission’s larger purpose of maintaining the integrity of the California judiciary.
Private discipline may be considered by the commission in subsequent proceedings, particularly when the judge has repeated the conduct for which the judge was previously disciplined.
Summaries of Private Discipline
See Summaries of Private Discipline for a compilation of private discipline summaries issued by the commission as published in the commission’s annual reports from 1998 through 2020. Private disciplinary action by the commission is summarized, without identifying the judge involved, in the commission’s annual reports.
In order to maintain confidentiality, certain details of the cases have been omitted or obscured, making the summaries less informative than they otherwise might be, but because these summaries are intended in part to educate judges and the public and to assist judges in avoiding inappropriate conduct, the commission believes it is better to describe the conduct in abbreviated form than to omit the summaries altogether. Summaries of advisory letters are categorized by the type of misconduct that resulted in discipline. When multiple types of misconduct were involved in a single case, they are listed at the end of the summary of that case. See chart on the Types of Conduct Resulting in Discipline in 2020, and the Types of Misconduct chart for a list of the categories of conduct for which judges may be disciplined.
See 10-Year Summary of Commission Activity for the number of advisory letters and private admonishments issued by the commission over the last 10 years, as well as for statistics on other actions by the commission. For additional statistics, see the Case Statistics page.
Revision in progress: Summaries of Private Discipline 1985-2013 with additional private discipline summaries prior to 1998.