Legislative Authority (Chapter 7A, Article 30)
§ 7A-374.1. Purpose.
The purpose of this Article is to provide for the investigation and resolution of inquiries concerning the qualification or conduct of any judge or justice of the General Court of Justice. The procedure for discipline of any judge or justice of the General Court of Justice shall be in accordance with this Article. Nothing in this Article shall affect the impeachment of judges under the North Carolina Constitution, Article IV, Sections 4 and 17. (2006-187, s. 11.)
§ 7A-374.1. Definitions.
Unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the definitions in this section shall apply throughout this Article:
§ 7A-375. Judicial Standards Commission.
- "Censure" means a finding by the Supreme Court, based upon a written recommendation by the Commission, that a judge has willfully engaged in misconduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, but which does not warrant the suspension of the judge from the judge's judicial duties or the removal of the judge from judicial office. A censure may require that the judge follow a corrective course of action. Unless otherwise ordered by the Supreme Court, the judge shall personally appear in the Supreme Court to receive a censure.
- "Commission" means the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission.
- "Incapacity" means any physical, mental, or emotional condition that seriously interferes with the ability of a judge to perform the duties of judicial office.
- "Investigation" means the gathering of information with respect to alleged misconduct or disability.
- "Judge" means any justice or judge of the General Court of Justice of North Carolina, including any retired justice or judge who is recalled for service as an emergency judge of any division of the General Court of Justice.
- "Letter of caution" means a written action of the Commission that cautions a judge not to engage in certain conduct that violates the Code of Judicial Conduct as adopted by the Supreme Court.
- "Public reprimand" means a written action of the Commission issued upon a finding by the Commission that a judge has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, but that misconduct is minor and does not warrant a recommendation by the Commission that the judge be disciplined by the Supreme Court. A public reprimand may require that the judge follow a corrective course of action.
- "Remove" or "removal" means a finding by the Supreme Court, based upon a written recommendation by the Commission, that a judge should be relieved of all duties of the judge's office and disqualified from holding further judicial office.
- "Suspend" or "suspension" means a finding by the Supreme Court, based upon a written recommendation by the Commission, that a judge should be relieved of the duties of the judge's office for a period of time, and upon conditions, including those regarding treatment and compensation, as may be specified by the Supreme Court. (2006-187, s. 11.)
§ 7A-376. Grounds for discipline by Commission; censure, suspension, or removal by the Supreme Court.
- The Judicial Standards Commission shall consist of the following residents of North Carolina: one Court of Appeals judge, two superior court judges, and two district court judges, each appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; four members of the State Bar who have actively practiced in the courts of the State for at least 10 years, elected by the State Bar Council; and four citizens who are not judges, active or retired, nor members of the State Bar, two appointed by the Governor, and two appointed by the General Assembly in accordance with G.S. 120-121, one upon recommendation of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and one upon recommendation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Court of Appeals judge shall act as chair of the Commission.
- The Court of Appeals judge shall serve at the pleasure of the Chief Justice. Terms of other Commission members shall be for six years. No member who has served a full six-year term is eligible for reappointment. If a member ceases to have the qualifications required for the member's appointment, that person ceases to be a member. Vacancies of members, other than those appointed by the General Assembly, are filled in the same manner as the original appointment, for the remainder of the term. Vacancies of members appointed by the General Assembly are filled as provided under G.S. 120-122. Members who are not judges are entitled to per diem and all members are entitled to reimbursement for travel and subsistence expenses at the rate applicable to members of State boards and commissions generally, for each day engaged in official business.
- If a member of the Commission who is a judge becomes disabled, or becomes a respondent before the Commission, the Chief Justice shall appoint an alternate member to serve during the period of disability or disqualification. The alternate member shall be from the same division of the General Court of Justice as the judge whose place the alternate member takes. If a member of the Commission who is not a judge becomes disabled, the Governor, if he appointed the disabled member, shall appoint, or the State Bar Council, if it elected the disabled member, shall elect, an alternate member to serve during the period of disability. If a member of the Commission who is not a judge and who was appointed by the General Assembly becomes disabled, an alternate member shall be appointed to serve during the period of disability in the same manner as if there were a vacancy to be filled under G.S. 120-122. In a particular case, if a member becomes disqualified, or is successfully challenged for cause, the member's seat for that case shall be filled by an alternate member selected as provided in this subsection.
- A member may serve after expiration of the member's term only to participate until the conclusion of a disciplinary proceeding begun before expiration of the member's term. Such participation shall not prevent the successor from taking office, but the successor may not participate in the proceeding for which the predecessor's term was extended. This subsection shall apply also to any judicial member whose membership on the Commission is automatically terminated by retirement or resignation from judicial office, or expiration of the term of judicial office.
- Members of the Commission and its employees are immune from civil suit for all conduct undertaken in the course of their official duties.
- The chair of the Commission may employ, if funds are appropriated for that purpose, an executive director, Commission counsel, investigator, and any support staff as may be necessary to assist the Commission in carrying out its duties. With the approval of the Chief Justice, for specific cases, the chair also may employ special counsel or call upon the Attorney General to furnish counsel. In addition, with the approval of the Chief Justice, for specific cases, the chair or executive director also may call upon the Director of the State Bureau of Investigation to furnish an investigator who shall serve under the supervision of the executive director. While performing duties for the Commission, the executive director, counsel, and investigator have authority throughout the State to serve subpoenas or other process issued by the Commission in the same manner and with the same effect as an officer authorized to serve process of the General Court of Justice.
- The Commission may adopt, and may amend from time to time, its own rules of procedure for the performance of the duties and responsibilities prescribed by this Article, subject to the approval of the Supreme Court. (1971, c. 590, s. 1; 1973, c. 50; 1975, c. 956, s. 13; 1997-72, s. 1; 2006-187, s. 11.)
§ 7A-377. Procedures.
- The Commission, upon a determination that any judge has engaged in conduct that violates the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct as adopted by the Supreme Court but that is not of such a nature as would warrant a recommendation of censure, suspension, or removal, may issue to the judge a private letter of caution or may issue to the judge a public reprimand.
- Upon recommendation of the Commission, the Supreme Court may censure, suspend, or remove any judge for willful misconduct in office, willful and persistent failure to perform the judge's duties, habitual intemperance, conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute. A judge who is suspended for any of the foregoing reasons shall receive no compensation during the period of that suspension. A judge who is removed for any of the foregoing reasons shall receive no retirement compensation and is disqualified from holding further judicial office.
- Upon recommendation of the Commission, the Supreme Court may suspend, for a period of time the Supreme Court deems necessary, any judge for temporary physical or mental incapacity interfering with the performance of the judge's duties, and may remove any judge for physical or mental incapacity interfering with the performance of the judge's duties which is, or is likely to become, permanent. A judge who is suspended for temporary incapacity shall continue to receive compensation during the period of the suspension. A judge removed for mental or physical incapacity is entitled to retirement compensation if the judge has accumulated the years of creditable service required for incapacity or disability retirement under any provision of State law, but he shall not sit as an emergency justice or judge. (1971, c. 590, s. 1; 1979, c. 486, s. 2; 2006-187, s. 11.)
§ 7A-378. Censure, suspension, or removal of justice of Supreme Court.
- Any citizen of the State may file a written complaint with the Commission concerning the qualifications or conduct of any justice or judge of the General Court of Justice, and thereupon the Commission shall make such investigation as it deems necessary. The Commission may also make an investigation on its own motion. The Commission may issue process to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence, to administer oaths, and to punish for contempt. No justice or judge shall be recommended for censure, suspension, or removal unless he has been given a hearing affording due process of law.
(a1) Unless otherwise waived by the justice or judge involved, all papers filed with and proceedings before the Commission, including any investigation that the Commission may make, are confidential, and no person shall disclose information obtained from Commission proceedings or papers filed with or by the Commission, except as provided herein. Those papers are not subject to disclosure under Chapter 132 of the General Statutes.
(a2) Information submitted to the Commission or its staff, and testimony given in any proceeding before the Commission, shall be absolutely privileged, and no civil action predicated upon that information or testimony may be instituted against any complainant, witness, or his or her counsel.
(a3) If, after an investigation is completed, the Commission concludes that a letter of caution is appropriate, it shall issue to the judge a letter of caution in lieu of any further proceeding in the matter. The issuance of a letter of caution is confidential in accordance with subsection (a1) of this section.
(a4) If, after an investigation is completed, the Commission concludes that a public reprimand is appropriate, the judge shall be served with a copy of the proposed reprimand and shall be allowed 20 days within which to accept the reprimand or to reject it and demand, in writing, that disciplinary proceedings be instituted in accordance with subsection (a5) of this section. A public reprimand, when issued by the Commission and accepted by the respondent judge, is not confidential.
(a5) If, after an investigation is completed, the Commission concludes that disciplinary proceedings should be instituted, the notice and statement of charges filed by the Commission, along with the answer and all other pleadings, are not confidential. Disciplinary hearings ordered by the Commission are not confidential, and recommendations of the Commission to the Supreme Court, along with the record filed in support of such recommendations are not confidential. Testimony and other evidence presented to the Commission is privileged in any action for defamation. At least five members of the Commission must concur in any recommendation to censure, suspend, or remove any judge. A respondent who is recommended for censure, suspension, or removal is entitled to a copy of the proposed record to be filed with the Supreme Court, and if the respondent has objections to it, to have the record settled by the Commission's chair. The respondent is also entitled to present a brief and to argue the respondent's case, in person and through counsel, to the Supreme Court. A majority of the members of the Supreme Court voting must concur in any order of censure, suspension, or removal. The Supreme Court may approve the recommendation, remand for further proceedings, or reject the recommendation. A justice of the Supreme Court or a member of the Commission who is a judge is disqualified from acting in any case in which he is a respondent.
- Repealed by Session Laws 2006-187, s. 11, effective January 1, 2007.
- The Commission may issue advisory opinions to judges, in accordance with rules and procedures adopted by the Commission.
- The Commission has the same power as a trial court of the General Court of Justice to punish for contempt, or for refusal to obey lawful orders or process issued by the Commission. (1971, c. 590, s. 1; 1973, c. 808; 1989 (Reg. Sess., 1990), c. 995, s. 2; 1997-72, s. 2; 2006-187, s. 11.)
§§ 7A-379 through 7A-399. Reserved for future codification purposes.
- The recommendation of the Judicial Standards Commission for censure, suspension, or removal of any justice of the Supreme Court for any grounds provided by G.S. 7A-376 shall be made to, and the record filed with, the Court of Appeals, which shall have and shall proceed under the same authority for censure, suspension, or removal of any justice as is granted to the Supreme Court under G.S. 7A-376 and G.S. 7A-377(a) for censure, suspension, or removal of any judge.
- The proceeding shall be heard by a panel of the Court of Appeals consisting of the Chief Judge, who shall be the presiding judge of the panel, and six other judges, the senior in service, excluding the judge who is chairman of the Commission. For good cause, a judge may be excused by a majority of the panel. If the Chief Judge is excused, the presiding judge shall be designated by a majority of the panel. The vacancy created by an excused judge shall be filled by the judge of the court who is next senior in service. (1979, c. 486, s. 1; 2006-187, s. 11.)