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Questions and Answers regarding the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct
About the Commission
1. What is the Commission on Judicial Conduct?
Article 6.1 of the Arizona Constitution created the Commission on Judicial Conduct as an independent state agency. The Commission’s purpose is to investigate complaints of alleged unethical conduct by judicial officers and to prosecute, when appropriate, formal charges of judicial misconduct.
2. Who Are the Members of the Commission and How Did They Get Appointed?
There are eleven members of the Commission. Their appointment processes and terms are set by the Arizona Constitution. Six members are judicial officers, appointed by the Arizona Supreme Court: two court of appeals judges, two superior court judges, one justice of the peace, and one municipal court judge. Two members are attorneys appointed by the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Arizona. Three members are citizens who are not judges, retired judges, or attorneys, and they are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.
3. Over Whom Does the Commission Have Authority?
The Commission has jurisdiction over judicial officers in the state, including appellate courts, superior courts, municipal courts, and justice of the peace courts, whether full-time or part-time. The Commission's jurisdiction extends to retired judicial officers for conduct that occurred while serving as a judge.
4. Are There Judges Over Whom the Commission Does Not Have Authority?
The Commission does not have jurisdiction over executive branch judges, such as administrative law judges, or over federal judicial officers (magistrates, bankruptcy court judges, district court judges, appellate court judges, and U.S. Supreme Court justices).
Judicial Misconduct Complaints
a. What is Judicial Misconduct?
Judicial misconduct typically consists of conduct that violates the standards set forth in the Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct. (See drop-down menu on "Rules" tab at the top of this page for a link to the Code.) Examples of conduct violating the Code include rude or abusive demeanor, a conflict of interest, communicating improperly with only one side to a proceeding, unreasonable delay in decision-making, and prohibited political activity.
b. Who Can File a Complaint?
Anyone may file a complaint, including litigants, attorney, jurors, court staff, members of the public, and other judges. The Commission also has the authority to file complaints on its own initiative.
c. Will Filing a Complaint Affect my Ability to Appeal my Case?
No. Commission investigations and prosecutions are separate from and have no effect on other legal proceedings. You should not delay pursuing an appeal or taking other appropriate legal action based on a Commission complaint.
d. How Long Does the Complaint Process Take?
Every case is unique, so it is not possible to predict the time that will be required to complete an investigation and resolve a given case. Relevant factors include whether the investigation requires obtaining and reviewing court records, including transcripts or recordings; whether additional witnesses must be interviewed; and whether the Commission’s professional staff is currently prosecuting one or more formal cases.
2. Complaint Process
The process for dealing with complaints is set forth in the Commission Rules. (See drop-down menu under "Rules" tab at the top of this page.) .
a. How Do I File A Complaint?
Complaints must be submitted in writing. The Commission cannot accept complaints orally. The complaint form is available on this website. If you choose to submit your complaint via letter or without the complaint form, you must include all of the information requested in the complaint form to ensure you complaint will be processed.
b. What Is My Role In the Complaint Process?
The person filing a complaint is not a party to the investigation or prosecution but may be contacted for additional information or to serve as a witness if formal charges are filed.
c. Should I Attach Copies of Documents, Transcripts, or Statements of Other Witnesses?
If you have documents, transcripts, recordings, or witness statements that substantiate your allegations of misconduct, you may provide them. But you need not supply documents in support of a claim that a judge made incorrect legal decisions, as the Commission typically lacks the authority to review the legal sufficiency of judicial rulings.
d. What Happens to My Complaint After Filing?
Step One: your complaint is reviewed to determine whether it alleges judicial misconduct. A complaint that asserts only that a judge made an erroneous ruling or that the judge was biased simply because of his or her ruling does not set forth actionable judicial misconduct.
Step Two: if your complaint alleges actionable misconduct, Commission staff will investigate to determine whether there is evidence to support the allegations. An investigation may entail reviewing court recordings and documents, asking the judge to submit a written response, and interviewing relevant witnesses.
Step Three: once the investigation is complete, the Commission members review the matter to determine the appropriate disposition. The Commission may dismiss a complaint, with or without an advisory comment or warning; issue a public reprimand; or file formal charges against the judge. For more information regarding Commission procedures, use the drop-down menu under the "Rules" tab at the top of this page to access the Commission's Rules.
e. Can I Appeal the Commission’s Decision?
If the Commission dismisses your complaint, you may submit a motion for reconsideration within 15 days of the date of the dismissal order.
f. Is My Complaint Confidential?
All complaints become public at some point. The degree and timing of the public disclosures depend on how a complaint is resolved.
Dismissals: the complaint and order of dismissal are made public after the time for a motion for reconsideration has expired. All identifying information as to the complainant and the judge is redacted.
Reprimands: the complaint, judge’s response, and reprimand order become public after the time for a motion for reconsideration and for the judge to request a formal hearing expires.
Formal Cases: when formal charges are filed, and the judge files an answer or the time for filing the answer expires, everything subsequently filed in the case is available to the public.
Most information that is available to the public is available on this website.
3. Judicial Sanctions
a. What Can the Commission Do to a Judge Who Has Committed Misconduct?
The Commission’s authority to impose sanctions is limited. The only sanction the Commission can impose on its own is a public reprimand. In formal proceedings, the Commission can make recommendations to the Arizona Supreme Court, which ultimately determines the proper sanction, if any. Formal sanctions imposable by the Arizona Supreme Court are: public censure, suspension, and removal. In addition, the Commission and the Court may impose conditions such as education or training, counseling, or the payment of fees and costs associated with Commission proceedings.
b. Can the Commission Change a Legal Ruling?
No, the Commission has no authority to alter a judge's ruling, and the Commission process is not a substitute for seeking appellate review on a timely basis.
c. Can the Commission Order a New Judge to Take Over?
No, filing a complaint with the Commission does not require that a new judge hear your matter.