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Judicial Standards FAQ's
 
  1. How do I file a complaint?
  2. What should be in my complaint?
  3. What does the Commission do with my complaint?
  4. How long does it take to resolve a complaint of judicial misconduct?
  5. Will the Commission return materials or photocopy documents I have provided to it?
  6. Are complaints to the Commission confidential?
  7. Why is my complaint confidential?
  8. How long do I have to file a complaint?
  9. I don't think the judge followed the law. Can the Commission assist me with my court case?
  10. Should I delay my appeal until my complaint for judicial misconduct is concluded?
  11. Will my complaint automatically disqualify the judge from further involvement in my case?
  12. Can judges be suspended from office while under investigation for misconduct?
  13. What is judicial misconduct?
  14. If I am uncertain about whether to file a complaint, is there someone I can talk to first?
  15. May I speak privately with individual Commission Members or personally appear before the Commission at a regular panel meeting?
  16. What positions fall under the Commission's jurisdiction?
  17. How can I take action against a judge that has acted improperly or unethically?
Q. How do I file a complaint?
A.

Mail a letter, typed if possible,to the address below in which you provide the name of the judge and describe the alleged misconduct of the judge. No particular form is required. Also provide your name, mailing address, and telephone number so the Commission's staff can correspond with you. Complaints may not be filed by fax, e-mail nor taken over the telephone. Complaints should be mailed to:

JUDICIAL STANDARDS COMMISSION
P.O. Box 1122
Raleigh, North Carolina 27602

Q.

What should be in my complaint?
A. Complaints should describe in detail what the judge did that you believe is misconduct. For example, a complaint should not simply state conclusions such as "the judge was rude" or "the judge was biased." Instead, the complaint should fully describe what the judge did and said. If a court document or an audio or video tape evidences the misconduct, you may submit a copy or mention it in your complaint. It is helpful if the following information is provided:
  • your name, mailing address, and telephone number
  • the name and telephone number of any witness to the events described
  • the name of the judge or judges
  • if possible, the case number of your case before the judge
  • the date or dates on which the conduct occurred
  • the type of court case involved and your relationship to the case
Q. What does the Commission do with my complaint?
A.

When a complaint is received, it is reviewed to determine whether it is within the Commission's jurisdiction, and a "preliminary investigation" may be made to verify allegations. Materials submitted by complainants are provided to commission members serving as an "investigative panel". At its regular panel 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 "investigative panel" finds probable cause and believes it has a sufficient basis to proceed, it will either: 1) issue a private letter of caution; or 2) order the filing of a statement of charges to institute disciplinary proceedings.

A "hearing panel" of the Commission will conduct a closed fact-finding hearing. At such 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 matter will be dismissed without a recommendation for discipline. If a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct is found by clear and convincing evidence, the Commission may recommend to the Supreme Court of North Carolina discipline in the form of: 1) public reprimand; 2) censure; 3) suspension; 4) removal from office; or 5) removal from office for physical or mental incapacity.

Final authority to determine whether the Commission's recommendation is appropriate rests with the Supreme Court of North Carolina after the parties have had a chance to make arguments according to the Rules for Supreme Court Review of Recommendations of the Judicial Standards Commission. This means that the parties have a right to file briefs making separate arguments to the Supreme Court, to file appropriate motions, and to request that the Court schedule the case for oral arguments. Upon review of the entire record, the Supreme Court may accept, reject or modify the recommendation of the Commission.

Q. How long does it take to resolve a complaint of judicial misconduct?
A.

A Commission panel normally meets every month, so disposition of a complaint can vary from a few weeks to several months, depending on its complexity, or longer in cases involving the filing of disciplinary proceedings.

Regarding disciplinary proceedings, if the Commission has completed a formal investigtion and finds probable cause and believes it has a sufficient basis to proceed with a hearing for a recommendation of discipline, a judge will have at least twenty days after the service of the statement of charges to prepare a response to the charges. A hearing cannot be scheduled until at least sixty days after a judge has filed an answer to the charges. A hearing may extend over several weeks. If the hearing results in the recommendation of discipline then a formal record must be prepared of the hearing, consented to by both parties, and this will be transmitted along with the hearing panel's recommendation to the Supreme Court. The Commission has no control over the Supreme Court's schedule as to when the Court will hear the case.

Q. Will the Commission return materials or photocopy documents I have provided to it?
A.

The Commission generally will not photocopy or return materials submitted to it, due to budget and staffing constraints, and the policy to retain files on all complaints for an extended period of time. Only send duplicates of supporting documents or records with your complaint. Make sure you keep all original documents and records.

Q. Are complaints to the Commission confidential?
A.

North Carolina General Statutes and Commission rules require confidentiality throughout the investigation, hearing, and recommendation process. During the preliminary inquiry, the accused judge often does not even know about a pending complaint. However, in order to undertake an investigation, inquiries are often directed to the accused judge, attorneys, court employees, and others, which require the disclosure of certain information regarding a complaint. For example, if a judge is asked about his or her conduct in a particular case, he or she will be able to discern which parties were involved. If there is a formal investigation and the judge is advised to recuse from all matters involving the person who filed the complaint, he or she has to be informed about which cases to avoid.

Neither Commission members nor staff may disclose the existence or contents of a complaint or investigation to third parties except as necessary to conduct that investigation or when notifying an agency or person in order to protect the public or the administration of justice. An exception may occur when, in the public interest, the Commission may issue a public statement confirming a pending investigation, a completed investigation resulting in insufficient evidence for filing a complaint, or with the consent of the respondent judge, that the investigation is complete and some specified disciplinary action has been taken. Discretionary waivers of confidentiality may also occur under limited conditions. If the matter is sufficiently serious to warrant a filing of formal charges, the Commission provides the judge under review with the information compiled during the Commission's investigation, including the name of the complainant.

Upon issuance of a public reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal by the Supreme Court, the notice and statement of charges filed by the Commission along with the answer and all other pleadings, and recommendations of the Commission to the Supreme Court along with the record filed in support of such recommendations, are no longer confidential.

The complainant will be notified as to what action is taken regarding the complaint unless the disposition is a private letter of caution.

Q. Why is my complaint confidential?
A.

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. If a judge does retailiate against a complainant such actions may constitute additional misconduct on behalf of the judge.

Q. How long do I have to file a complaint?
A.

The Commission is prohibited from initiating any disciplinary hearings against a judge for alleged misconduct that took place more than three years ago. However,disciplinary proceedings regarding alleged political misconduct under Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct must be initiated within three months of the act or omission allegedly giving rise to that type of violation.The exception is that disciplinary proceedings may be instituted at any time against a judge convicted of a felony during the judge's tenure in judicial office.

This is a time limit on the Commission's authority to act, not a time limit for citizens filing complaints. In order for the Commission to have enough time to review a complaint, investigate the matter and then to act on a complaint, it is recommended that citizens file complaints at least 90 days before the expiration of the three year time limit, or at least 30 days before the three month time limit. If a matter is outside of these time limits, the Commission will be unable to recommend any disciplinary action against the judge and may dismiss a complaint.

Q. I don't think the judge followed the law. Can the Commission assist me with my court case?
A. No. The commission is not an appellate court. The commission's authority is limited by law to investigating complaints and, if appropriate, recommending discipline of the judge to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. The commission does not have the authority to issue orders in any case, including ordering anyone to be released from jail, granting a new trial, disqualifying a judge from hearing a case, assigning a new judge to a case, or granting or changing custody, visitation or child support orders. Neither the commission nor its staff is authorized to give legal advice or respond to requests for assistance with individual legal matters. The Commission is not a substitute for protecting your legal rights. You should contact a practicing lawyer to protect your rights.

Q. Should I delay my appeal until my complaint for judicial misconduct is concluded?
A. No. The time allowed for an appeal may expire. You should proceed with whatever remedy is available to you within the court system to correct any judicial errors you believe were committed in your case, usually within 30 days of the date of the decision about which you complain. Your complaint of judicial misconduct is totally separate and independent of your litigation and will have no effect on any legal decision on appeal.

Q. Will my complaint automatically disqualify the judge from further involvement in my case?
A. Filing a complaint against a judge with the Commission is not itself sufficient reason to disqualify a judge from your case. The Commission will only review your complaint to determine whether or not misconduct has occurred. Disqualification is determined in court proceedings by a judge. Please see recent Formal Advisory Opinions for more discussion about the circumstances under which a judge should by disqualified.

Q. Can judges be suspended from office while under investigation for misconduct?
A. Yes, it is a possible, though unlikely outcome. If an investigative panel determines that immediate suspension of the judge is required for the proper administration of justice, it may recommend to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina that such judge be temporarily suspended pending final disposition of the inquiry. Suspension is at the discretion of the Chief Justice. This is an uncommon remedy that hasbeen reserved for extreme circumstances.

Q. What is judicial misconduct?
A. Judicial misconduct is any violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • failure to perform duties impartially and diligently
  • failure to dispose promptly of the business of the court
  • allowing family, social or political relationships to influence judicial decision-making
  • conflict of interest
  • expressions of bias based on race, gender or ethnicity
  • rude, abusive and otherwise improper treatment of parties, counsel, witnesses, etc.
  • communicating improperly with only one side to a proceeding
  • excessive use of intoxicating drinks or drugs
  • commenting on or interfering with a pending or impending case
  • improper election campaign conduct
  • criminal behavior
Judicial incapacity is a disability which is, or is likely to become, permanent and which 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 addiction
  • senility
  • physical illness
  • mental illness
Judicial misconduct does not include:

  • rulings on the law and/or the facts
  • matters within the discretion of the trial court
  • rulings on the admissibility of evidence
  • rulings involving alimony, child support, custody or visitation rights
  • sentences imposed by the court
  • believing or disbelieving witnesses
Q. If I am uncertain about whether to file a complaint, is there someone I can talk to first?
A. Yes. You can call the Commission's office and talk to the Commission's staff before you decide to file a complaint. The staff will attempt to answer general questions regarding the Commission's procedures and jurisdiction. However, the staff will not be able to tell you if a judge has actually committed misconduct or give you legal advice.

Q. May I speak privately with individual Commission Members or personally appear before the Commission at a regular panel meeting?
A. No. All communications with the Commission must be in writing.

Q. What positions fall under the Commission's jurisdiction?
A.
  • Justices of the Supreme Court
  • Judges of the Court of Appeals
  • Judges of the Superior Court
  • Judges of the District Court
  • Industrial Commission Commissioners
  • Industrial Commission Deputy Commissioners
The Commission does not have jurisdiction over attorneys, magistrates, clerks of court, administrative law judges, and federal judges.

Q. How can I take action against a judge that has acted improperly or unethically?
A. Contact the Judicial Standards Commission. The Commission handles complaints regarding judges and, in appropriate cases, will pursue grievances against judges. The number is 919-831-3630. The mailing address is Post Office Box 1122, Raleigh, NC 27602.

**Note: The law imposes time limits within which you must take certain actions. You therefore should contact an attorney immediately if you have any questions concerning your legal rights and remedies. (Last updated on June 24, 2014)
 
 
 
   
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