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Introduction Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct Jurisdiction
Scope of Authority Making a Complaint about an Arizona Judge
Judicial Discipline Confidentiality Frequently Asked Questions
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 subsequently 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, and justice and municipal courts.
Judicial conduct commissions exist in every state and are responsible for overseeing the ethical conduct of judges both on and off the bench. They play a vital role in promoting public confidence in the judiciary and in preserving the integrity of the judicial process.
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 (commission) consists of eleven members with diverse backgrounds who serve six-year terms. Six judge members are appointed by the 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 for their work 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, it is housed within the judicial branch of government and its rules must be approved by the supreme court. The commission's budget is appropriated by the state legislature. For Fiscal Year 2016 (ending June 30, 2016), the commission's budget is $505,000.
The commission has jurisdiction over all 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 decisions. The commission cannot reverse or overrule a judge’s rulings, intervene in a case, remove a judge from a case, or award damages or other monetary relief to anyone. Parties seeking to appeal a judge’s ruling must do so in compliance with all applicable laws and rules. Neither the commission nor its staff can 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, and an official complaint form can be obtained from the commission’s office or downloaded from this web site. A letter will be treated as a complaint if it contains 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 judge’s 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 the complainant 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 in which they are received. The commission's investigation may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter and the commission's caseload.
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 commission's 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 informally for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct or for failing to live up to the ethical standards described in the state constitution. Reprimands are imposed when the judge’s conduct is improper, but not so serious as to require discipline by the supreme court.
In some cases, the commission may file formal charges and hold 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 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 supreme court to make rules governing the confidentiality of commission proceedings. The level of confidentiality is determined by the disposition of a complaint. If a complaint is dismissed (for lack of evidence or jurisdiction, for example), the original complaint and the order resolving the case will be 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 judicial discipline. In minor cases involving informal reprimands, the original complaint, the judge’s response, and the commission’s findings and final order will be made public after the complainant and the judge have been notified. In formal cases involving the potential censure, suspension or removal of a judge from office, the complaint, the judge’s response and other related documents will be 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 remain confidential and are not released to the public.
The commission may disclose confidential information about a judge’s conduct to judicial nominating commissions and other 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?
Yes. If your complaint results in discipline or formal charges, your name and the judge’s name and court will be made public. If the complaint is dismissed, however, your name and the judge’s name and court will be removed from the public copy of your complaint.
Will filing a complaint with the commission change the decision in my lawsuit?
No. Commission proceedings have no effect on judicial decisions or appeals.
Will my complaint automatically 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 cannot grant extensions for filing appeals.
Does the commission act on all complaints?
Yes. Every complaint is reviewed by the commission and its staff.
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 decide to 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 will be able to explain the process used to investigate complaints about judges under the commission’s jurisdiction.
Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct
1501 W. Washington Street, Suite 229
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
Telephone: (602) 452-3200
Web Site: www.azcourts.gov/azcjc