Responding to an Inquiry and Investigation
If a complaint has been submitted to the Commission, which may include potentially supporting evidence, the process is as follows: The Executive Director and Commission Counsel review the complaint and information received. They determine whether the complaint or information, if true, discloses facts indicating that a judge has engaged in conduct which is in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Such allegations include: (1) willful misconduct in office, (2) failure to perform the duties of the judicial office, (3) conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, (4) habitual intemperance, or (5) allegations of a mental or physical incapacity interfering with the performance of judicial duties.
If a complaint or information is not dismissed as frivolous or unfounded, the Executive Director and Investigator will conduct a preliminary review to apprise the investigative panel of the nature of the complaint, and the panel will review the complaint or information at the next meeting after the complaint or information is received. If the investigative panel determines that the complaint alleges, or the information discloses, facts indicating a judge has engaged in the conduct described above, the panel will order a formal investigation to determine whether disciplinary proceedings should be instituted.
At this point in the process, the judge is notified of the formal investigation, the nature of the allegations the Commission is investigating, and whether the formal investigation is on the Commission’s own motion or on written complaint. The written notice provides the judge a reasonable opportunity to respond and present relevant information. If you received an inquiry letter from the Commission, the investigative panel has made this initial determination and ordered a formal investigation prior to sending out the letter.
You are required to fully cooperate with the Commission in connection with any inquiry the Commission makes. In drafting a response to an inquiry, it is important for you to include all information and documentation necessary to fairly and fully respond to the allegations. However, it is equally important for you to include only the pertinent information and documentation. We help our clients make these judgments and determinations from an objective standpoint and with knowledge of and experience with the process in defending complaints against judges before the Commission.
In exceptional cases, if the investigative panel determines that immediate suspension of the judge is required for the proper administration of justice, it may recommend to the Chief Justice that the judge be temporarily suspended from the performance of his or her judicial duties pending final disposition of the inquiry. A copy of such recommendation will be provided to the judge by certified mail. If the Chief Justice enters the Order, the judge must immediately cease acting in a judicial capacity upon service of such an order. The Commission should then promptly give notice of a formal hearing. Typically, the suspension will remain in effect pending a final decision after the formal hearing, although in some instances the Commission may recommend lifting the suspension based on additional information provided by the respondent judge.
Letter of Caution by the Commission
If the inquiry discloses conduct by a judge which requires attention but is not of such a nature as to warrant a recommendation by Commission that the judge be disciplined by the Supreme Court, the investigative panel may issue a letter of caution to the judge. No letter of caution may be issued after a disciplinary proceeding has been initiated, however. The letter of caution is a not public record.