Reporting Misconduct by Judges

Judicial misconduct occurs when a judge acts in ways that are considered unethical or otherwise violate the judge's obligations of impartial conduct.

Actions that can be classified as judicial misconduct include: conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts; using the judge's office to obtain special treatment for friends or relatives; accepting bribes, gifts, or other personal favors related to the judicial office; having improper discussions with parties or counsel for one side in a case; treating litigants or attorneys in a demonstrably egregious and hostile manner; violating other specific, mandatory standards of judicial conduct, such as judicial rules of procedure or evidence.

Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline

Complaints regarding Missouri judges can be filed by anyone and are heard by the Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline. The six-member commission, which is comprised of two lawyers, two judges, and two citizens, votes on how each case will proceed in a closed-door meeting. The commission itself cannot confirm or deny the existence of a complaint until it goes to a formal proceeding.

The Code of Judicial Conduct

All judges in Missouri are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct, which contains the following canons or broad general principles:

  • A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
  • A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office promptly, efficiently and fairly.
  • A judge shall conduct the judge’s extrajudicial activities so as to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.
  • A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity or impartiality of the judiciary.

Background

The Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline was created in 1972 when voters approved Article 5, §24 of the state constitution. The new article, which subsequently was amended in 1976, established the commission as an independent state agency responsible for investigating complaints against justices and judges on the Supreme Court, court of appeals, circuit and associate circuit courts, municipal courts and members of judicial commissions.

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.

Jurisdiction

The commission has jurisdiction over Missouri judges of the Supreme Court, the court of appeals, circuit and associate circuit and municipal courts, and members of judicial commissions. It does not have jurisdiction over court employees, administrative law judges, federal judges or court commissioners.

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 Code of Judicial Conduct.
  • Conduct that brings the judiciary into disrepute.

The commission's primary concern is judicial behavior, not judicial decision-making. Only a higher court can overturn a judge's decision or ruling. The commission is not a court and cannot change a judge's decision (including child custody orders), intervene in a pending case, remove a judge from a case, or award damages or other monetary relief to litigants.

Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline
2190 South Mason Road, Suite 201
St. Louis, Missouri 63131
Telephone: (314) 966-1007
Facsimile: (314) 966-0076
Website: www.courts.mo.gov
E-mail: jim.smith@courts.mo.gov
Complaint Form.pdf
Code of Judicial Conduct
Supreme Court Rules for Procedure of the Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline
Enabling Missouri Constitutional Provision

The Complaint Process

Anyone can file a complaint against a judge, and an official complaint form can be obtained from the commission’s office. 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 conduct and listing the names of witnesses who can verify the facts. The complainant is not required to provide court rules, but may attach copies of documents that might 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 request that the commission reconsiders its decision. The request for reconsideration must present evidence or argument that was not previously provided to the commission.

Complaints that allege misconduct solely on the basis of a judge's decisions will be dismissed without investigation. Neither the commission nor its staff can provide legal assistance or advice.

Organization

The commission consists of six members with diverse backgrounds who serve six-year terms. It is composed of two citizens who are not members of the Missouri Bar, appointed by the Governor; two lawyers appointed by the Board of Governors of the Missouri Bar; one judge of the court of appeals to be selected by a majority of the judges of the court of appeals; and one just of the circuit courts to be selected by a majority of the circuit judges of the state.

Judicial Discipline

The commission may reprimand a judge informally for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct or for failing to live up the ethical standards described in the state constitution. Informal 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 hearing to consider evidence about the judge’s conduct. If it finds the judge committed misconduct, the commission can recommend to the Supreme Court that the judge be reprimanded, suspended without pay or removed from office. The court also may retire a judge from office for a permanent physical or mental condition that prevents the judge from performing judicial duties.

Confidentiality

Papers and proceedings of the commission are kept confidential unless a formal recommendation for discipline or disability retirement is filed by the commission before the Supreme Court.

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, no. Unless your complaint waives confidentiality, your identity is not revealed to the judge during the initial investigation. If there is a formal hearing and you are a witness, your identity may be revealed during the course of your testimony. In addition, your identity may be apparent based on the nature of your allegations. The commission notifies judges about complaints unless there is a good reason to withhold this information.

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 review all complaints? Yes. Every complaint is reviewed by the commission and its staff but formal hearings are not held for every complaint.

If my complaint is justified, will the commission tell me how the judge was disciplined? If the judge is formally disciplined by the Supreme Court, a copy of the order of discipline will be sent to you. If the commission disposes of your complaint informally, you will be so notified. However, specific information about the informal disposition will remain confidential.

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, but may assist you in explaining the procedures of the commission.


See related: Corrupt Judges

 

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