The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct was created in 1970, when Arizona voters approved article 6.1 of the state constitution. The new article, which was amended in 1988, established the Commission as an independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints against justices and judges on the supreme court, court of appeals, superior court, justice of the peace courts, and municipal courts.
Judicial conduct commissions exist in every state and are responsible for overseeing the ethical conduct of judges. As a forum for citizens with complaints against judges, judicial conduct commissions help maintain the balance between judicial independence and public accountability and serve to strengthen the judiciary by encouraging judges to maintain high standards of professional and personal conduct.
Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct
The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct consists of eleven members with diverse backgrounds who serve six-year terms. Six judge members are appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court: two from the court of appeals, two from the superior court, one from a justice court, and one from a municipal court. Two attorney members are appointed by the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Arizona. Three public members, who cannot be attorneys or active or retired judges, are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.
Commission members are not compensated but may receive authorized travel allowances and reimbursement of other expenses. The Commission meets regularly during the year and is supported by a professional staff located in the State Courts Building in Phoenix. Although the Commission operates independently, its rules must be approved by the Arizona Supreme Court. The Commission's budget is appropriated by the state legislature. For the most recent fiscal year, the Commission's budget was approximately $500,000.
The Commission has jurisdiction over Arizona judges, court commissioners, hearing officers, referees and other judicial officers who perform judicial functions. It does not have jurisdiction over court employees, administrative law judges or federal judges.
Scope of Authority
The Commission has authority to investigate complaints involving the following:
• Willful misconduct in office
• Willful and persistent failure to perform duties
• Habitual intemperance (e.g., alcohol or drug abuse)
• Permanent disabilities that interfere with judicial duties
• A violation of the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct
• Conduct that brings the judiciary into disrepute
The Commission does not have jurisdiction to review the substance of a judge’s decision, and it cannot overturn a judge’s rulings, intervene in a case, remove a judge from a case, or award damages or other monetary relief. The Commission and its staff may not provide legal advice or assistance to any party, person, or entity.
Making a Complaint about an Arizona Judge
Anyone can file a complaint against a judge. A complaint form can be obtained from the Commission’s office or downloaded from this website. A letter will be treated as a complaint if it includes the information required on the official form. There is no charge for filing a complaint.
A complaint consists of a statement of facts describing the alleged misconduct and listing the names of witnesses who can verify the facts. The complainant is not required to provide court files, but may attach copies of documents he or she believes may help the Commission understand the complaint.
Complaints must be mailed or delivered to the Commission’s office. All complaints are numbered and screened in the order received. The Commission's investigation may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter and pending caseloads.
The complainant and the judge will be notified by mail of the Commission's decision at the conclusion of the investigation. If either disagrees with the decision, he or she may file a motion for reconsideration within fifteen days of the mailing of the Commission's order.
The Commission may reprimand a judge if his or her conduct is improper, but not so serious as to require discipline by the Arizona Supreme Court. Reprimands are public sanctions.
In some cases, the Commission files formal charges and holds a public hearing to consider evidence about the judge’s conduct. If it finds that the judge committed misconduct, the Commission can recommend to the Arizona Supreme Court that the judge be censured, suspended without pay, or removed from office. The court may also remove a judge from office for a permanent physical or mental condition that prevents the judge from performing judicial duties.
The state constitution requires the Arizona Supreme Court to make rules governing the confidentiality of Commission proceedings. The degree of confidentiality depends on the disposition of a complaint. If a complaint is dismissed, the complaint and the order resolving the case are released to the public after names and other identifying information have been removed from the documents.
More information is made public when a complaint results in a disciplinary sanction. In cases involving reprimands, the complaint, the judge’s response, and the Commission’s findings and final order are made public after the complainant and the judge have been notified. In cases where formal charges are filed, the complaint, the judge’s response, and other related documents are open for public inspection earlier in the process, and formal hearings are open to the public.
Commission correspondence, computer records, investigative reports, attorney work product, and the minutes of Commission deliberations are confidential and are not released to the public.
The Commission may disclose confidential information about a judge’s conduct to judicial nominating commissions and official agencies involved in criminal prosecutions or charged with evaluating the qualifications of a judge.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to use the Commission's complaint form?
The Commission's complaint form should be used, if possible, but a letter is acceptable.
Will my identity be revealed to the judge?
As a general rule, yes. The Commission notifies judges about complaints unless there is good reason to withhold this information.
Will my complaint be made public?
If your complaint results in discipline or formal charges, your name and the judge’s name will be made public. If the complaint is dismissed, however, your name and the judge’s name, as well as other identifying information, will be removed from the documents made available to the public.
Will filing a complaint with the Commission change the decision in my case?
No. Commission proceedings have no effect on judicial decisions or appeals. A judicial conduct complaint is not a substitute for appellate review,
Will my complaint disqualify the judge from further involvement in my case?
No. Filing a complaint does not automatically disqualify a judge from hearing a case.
Should I wait to hear from the Commission before I appeal my case?
No. The time allowed for an appeal may expire, and the Commission has no authority to grant extensions for filing appeals.
Does the Commission act on all complaints?
Yes. Every complaint is reviewed by both the Commission's professional staff and Commission members.
If my complaint is justified, will the Commission tell me how the judge was disciplined?
Yes. A copy of the order containing the Commission's decision will be sent to you at the close of the case.
If I am uncertain about whether to file a complaint, is there someone I can talk to first?
Yes. You can call the Commission’s office and talk to a member of the staff before you file a complaint. The staff member will not be able to tell you if a judge has actually committed misconduct or give you any legal advice. The staff member can explain the process used to investigate complaints.
Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct
1501 W. Washington Street, Suite 229
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Telephone: (602) 452-3200
Web Site: www.azcourts.gov/azcjc