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Frequently Asked Questions


NOTICE:

These responses are intended to provide guidance of a general nature. Please consult the governing provisions for specific information.


   
What is the Commission on Judicial Conduct?   What does the Commission do with my complaint?
Where and when are the Commission meetings held?   How do I file a complaint?
What positions fall under the Commission's jurisdiction?   Where do I send my complaint?
What is judicial misconduct?   How long does it take to resolve a complaint?
What is judicial disability? >   Can I meet with an investigator?
Does the Commission have jurisdiction over legal matters?   Can the Commission assist me with my court case?
I don't think the judge followed the law. Is this within the Commission's jurisdiction?   Does the Commission give legal advice?
What is the difference between judicial misconduct and legal error?   How will Commission proceedings affect my appeal?
Are complaints confidential?   Should I delay my appeal until my complaint is concluded?>
Why is my complaint confidential?   Can I get a judge removed from my case if I file a complaint against the judge?
   

 

What is the Commission on Judicial Conduct?

The Commission is an independent agency in the judicial branch consisting of six nonattorney citizens, two lawyers and three judges who review and act on complaints of judicial misconduct or disability. The six nonattorney citizens are appointed by the Governor, two attorneys are selected by the State Bar Association, one judge is selected by and from the Court of Appeals, one selected by and from the Superior Court Judges, and one selected by and from the limited jurisdiction court judges.

More info on the Commission's background.

More info on the Commission's membership.

 

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Where and when are the Commission meetings held?

The Commission normally meets the first Friday of every other month.

More info on Commission meetings. View the tentative schedule of meeting dates.

The Washington State Register website contains state agency information regarding such topics as preproposals, notices of proposed rules, emergency and permanently adopted rules, public meetings, requests for public input, notices of rules review, etc.

 

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What positions fall under the Commission's jurisdiction?

  • Justices of the Supreme Court
  • Judges of the Court of Appeals
  • Judges of the Superior Court
  • Judges of the District Court
  • Judges of the Municipal Court
  • Judges Pro Tempore
  • Court Commissioners
  • Magistrates
  • State employees of the judicial branch as defined by RCW 42.52.010.

More info on the Commission's jurisdiction over judges.

More info on the Commission's jurisdiction over state employees of the judicial branch.

Also, refer to the Executive Ethics Board website for more info on the Ethics in Public Service Act (Chapter 42.52 RCW).

For information on the State Employee Whistleblower Protection Act click here.

 

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What is judicial misconduct?

Judicial misconduct is any violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct which may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Injudicious temperament
  • Conflict of interest
  • Improper election campaign conduct
  • Impropriety
  • Failure to dispose promptly of the business of court
  • Ex parte communication
  • Partisan political activity

The Code of Judicial Conduct is adopted by the Washington Supreme Court. More info.

The Code of Judicial Conduct is also published in the Washington Court Rules.

 

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What is judicial disability?

Judicial disability is a disability which is, or is likely to become, permanent and which seriously interferes with the performance of judicial duties. It can be a physical or mental disability, which may include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Senility
  • Physical illness
  • Mental illness

 

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Does the Commission have jurisdiction over legal matters?

No. Our authority is limited to dealing with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court. (For the few exceptions to this rule, see FAQ: What is the difference between judicial misconduct and legal error?)

The Commission does not have authority to review or reverse any judge's decision. The remedy for dissatisfaction with a judge's ruling requires following the steps provided by law, including appeal.

The Commission is not a substitute for protecting your legal rights. You should contact a lawyer in private practice to protect your rights in civil matters.

 

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I don't think the judge followed the law. Is this within the commission's jurisdiction?

A judge is entitled and obligated to reach a decision by exercising independent judgment in determination of judicial matters. The Commission does not have the authority to reverse judicial decisions.

It is important to understand the limitations on the Commission's authority. The Commission does not represent the people who contact it. Our job is to gather facts from all available sources and to decide whether a judge or commissioner engaged in judicial misconduct - a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Commission is not a substitute for protecting your legal rights. You should contact a practicing lawyer to protect your rights. Our authority is limited to dealing with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court. A judge's decisions may be incorrect and cause harm without being a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

We often find that people expect more from us than we can legally do.

 

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What is the difference between judicial misconduct and legal errors?

Higher courts have the authority and responsibility to review and possibly reverse judge's legal decisions, but the Commission cannot do that. Even if a judge's decision is legally or factually wrong and serious harm results, that is generally considered to be legal error and not an ethical misconduct that the Commission can address. Judges are allowed and supposed to exercise their discretion in making decisions. It is possible that a legal error could also show evidence of ethical misconduct, which is what the Commission is empowered to look at, if the error or exercise of discretion was motivated by an improper motive (such as bias, conflict of interest, or revenge), or if the legal error was exceptionally serious and obvious, or if there was a pattern or practice of legal error demonstrating incompetence or disability.

For example, a complaint that a judge refused to set a low bail or set bail too low for a criminal defendant would be dismissed by the Commission as a complaint about the exercise of judicial discretion, and not about misconduct. Similarly, without additional evidence of improper motive or practice, a complaint that a judge imposed too heavy or light a sentence would be dismissed by the Commission as a complaint about the exercise of judicial discretion, and not about misconduct. Even if the Commission found that a judge did operate with improper motive or bias, the Commission's action could only be to discipline the judge for the ethical misconduct. The Commission's action would not, by itself, change the effect or force of a judge's decision. Only the appellate courts can do that.

Because judges are expected to exercise discretion and because their legal decisions can be wrong without being unethical, proving improper motive, etc, as an ethical issue can be time consuming and difficult to prove. If a complainant has evidence of a judge's misconduct that led to an improper result, that should be provided with the complaint. Again, it is important to stress that the judge's decision can only be changed using court procedures. The judge's decision will not be affected by any action taken by the Commission.

 

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Are complaints confidential?

Initially, complaints, and the fact that a complaint has been made, are confidential. Many complaints are completely investigated without notifying the judge of the investigation. In the course of investigation, the judge may be provided an opportunity to respond to the allegations. The complainant may be identified if the judge could not respond without such identification. In some instances, the nature of the complaint will itself identify the complainant.

If the initial proceedings reveal probable cause that a violation has occured, a formal Statement of Charges is served on the judge and the statement is made public, as are all subsequent documents filed thereafter. Fact-finding hearings are public and witnesses may be subpoenaed to testify. At the public hearing, the Commission files the finding of probable cause and records upon which it based its decision to conduct a hearing. These records may include a copy of the complaint.

More info on confidentiality.

 

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Why is my complaint confidential?

Confidentiality is intended to encourage complainants to express their concerns without fear of reprisal or retribution. It is further intended to protect a judge's reputation and the integrity of the judicial process from unsubstantiated allegations.The Commission is directed to conduct its investigations confidentially. Commission members, staff, and court personnel, including lawyers, are prohibited from disclosing the fact that a complaint was made or that an investigation is pending. However, after the Commission files a statement of charges, dismisses the complaint, or otherwise closes the investigation or initial proceedings, confidentiality ceases to apply to any person outside the Commission.

More info on confidentiality.

 

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What does the Commission do with my complaint?

When a complaint is received it is reviewed to determine whether it is within Commission jurisdiction, and a preliminary investigation may be made to verify allegations. Materials submitted by complainants are provided to the commission members. At its regular meetings, the Commission carefully reviews all allegations. Complaints are dismissed if they involve legal issues over which the Commission has no authority, or if no violation can be proven.

Where the Commission finds probable cause and believes it has sufficient basis to proceed, it will order the filing of a Statement of Charges and hold a public fact-finding hearing. At such a hearing, the judge has the right to defend against the charges and to be represented by a lawyer. Witnesses and documents may be subpoenaed. If no violation is found, the complaint will be dismissed. If a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct is found by clear, cogent and convincing evidence, the Commission may take the following actions:

  • Publicly admonish, reprimand or censure the judge
  • Censure the judge and recommend that the supreme court suspend or remove the judge from office

If the Commission finds permanent disability which is seriously interfering with the judge's ability to perform judicial duties, the Commission shall recommend that the supreme court retire the judge.

A judge may file an appeal de novo to the supreme court within 30 days after a Commission admonishment, reprimand or censure.

More info the complaint process.

 

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How do I file a complaint?

You may call and request a complaint form, you may download a complaint form from the Commission web site and mail or fax it us, or you may write a brief letter of your complaint. For confidentiality reasons, we do not accept complaints via email. The letter should identify the judge and specify the conduct or action you believe was improper. Also identify by name and address any witnesses. Duplicates of any documents or correspondence that may substantiate your allegations should be included. Keep in mind that materials filed in the Commission's confidential records cannot be duplicated for you. If you need to maintain a record, keep a copy. Also, do not send records you wish to keep, such as original documents, without making prior arrangements for their loan and their safe delivery and return. Please make sure you keep the original document. If the investigators need more information, you will be contacted.

 

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Where do I send my complaint?

You may mail or fax your complaint to:

Commission on Judicial Conduct
P.O. Box 1817
Olympia, WA 98507
 
FAX: (360) 586 - 2918>

Because of confidentiality concerns, the Commission DOES NOT correspond about specific complaints by email at this time.

More info on filing a complaint.

 

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How long does it take to resolve a complaint?

The Commission normally meets every other month so final disposition of most complaints may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter and the number of pending complaints.

 

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Can I meet with an investigator?

Most investigations are conducted without a personal interview with the complainant. While in-person interviews are not impossible, they are the exception, rather than the rule, and are conducted at the discretion of the investigators. Since the Commission is required to conduct an independent investigation, information is gathered from official sources, interviews, and other means. The Commission office is small, and contains a great deal of confidential information. The facility is not designed to accomodate interviews. Commission investigators frequently conduct interviews by telephone and occasionally, if necessary, in person at various locations in the state.

 

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Can the commission assist me with my court case?

No. The Commission cannot give legal advice to citizens or represent clients. We must remain neutral in any underlying litigation.

The Commission does not represent the people who contact it. Our job is to gather facts from all available sources and to decide whether a judge or commissioner engaged in judicial misconduct - a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Commission is not a substitute for protecting your legal rights. You should contact a lawyer to protect your rights in any matter. Commission authority is limited to dealing with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court.

 

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Does the Commission give legal advice?

No. The Commission cannot give legal advice to citizens or represent clients.

The Commission does not represent the people who contact it. Our job is to gather facts from all available sources and to decide whether a judge or commissioner engaged in judicial misconduct - a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Commission is not a substitute for protecting your legal rights. You should contact a lawyer to protect your rights in any matter. Commission authority is limited to dealing with violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court.

 

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How will Commission proceedings affect my appeal?

The Commission is not a substitute for protecting your legal rights. You should contact a lawyer to protect your rights in any matter.

Your complaint of judicial misconduct is a matter separate from your litigation.

 

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Should I delay my appeal until my complaint is concluded?

No. You must proceed with whatever remedy is available to you within the court system to correct any judicial errors you believe were committed in your case. Your complaint of judicial misconduct is a matter separate from your litigation.

 

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Can I get a judge removed from my case if I file a complaint against the judge?

Filing a complaint against a judge with the Commission is not itself sufficient reason to remove a judge from your case. Your complaint of judicial misconduct is a matter separate from your litigation. The allegations you make about the judge might or might not be sufficient grounds to ask a judge to recuse from your case, and you must make that decision, yourself. The fact that you complained to the Commission about those allegations is not grounds for recusal.

 

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