Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980
Under the law, any person may file a written complaint alleging that a federal judge has engaged in "conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts" or "is unable to discharge all duties of office by reason of mental or physical disability.
The law which was signed by President Jimmy Carter authorized each of the thirteen federal circuits to establish a judicial council to review complaints against federal judges. A judicial councial each circuit which comprises of judges under the 1980 law was also authorized to order sanctions for violations of the Federal Code of Judicial Conduct.
Any person may file a complaint against a federal judge that has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or alleging that such judge is unable to discharge all the duties of office by reason of mental or physical disability. The person files the complaint with the Clerk of the nearest Federal Court of Appeals with a written complaint containing a brief statement of the facts constituting such misconduct of disability.
Upon receipt of a complaint filed by a person, the clerk of the respective circuit sends the complaint to the chief judge of the respective circuit or if the conduct alleged against the judge is the chief judge, to that circuit judge in regular active service which ranks the second highest in seniority. The clerk of court simultaneously sends a copy of the written complaint to the judge whose conduct is under review.
With the purpose of expediting the complaint process in respect of the business of the courts and on the basis of information available to the respective chief judge the chief judge may ask the person who submits the complaint to ask for the basis of the complaint.
By local judicial council
When the judicial council of a respective circuit receives a written complaint under the law, the council may engage in the following actions:
- Conduct any additional investigation which is necessary.
- It can dismiss the complaint
- If the complaint is not dismissed the judicial council of the respective circuit must take appropriate action in the best interests of all participants of a respective court in protecting the court's integrity while at the same time efficiently administering justice during an investigation.
If a judicial council deems that in the complaint that a judge has engaged in any misconduct on or off the bench or is seems to be not fit on the issue of disability, the judicial council can order:
- That a judge would be ordered to serve a suspension and would not have future cases be assigned to the judge whose conduct is the subject to a complaint in the best interests of the court.
- Face either censure or reprimand by means of private communication or public announcement.
Also a judicial council can take special actions on Article III judges in which the Constitution notes that Article III judges are appointed for life on good behavior. If a complaint involves an Article III judge, the following actions by the judicial council under paragraph can take are:
- Certifying that the judge is disabled, mandated by procedures and standards provided under current federal laws on judicial disability.
- Also requesting that the judge voluntarily retire and also that the judge if voluntarily retiring during an investigation is not eligible for senior status or retirement benefits.
Actions that can be taken on magistrate judges] if a complaint indicates that if a magistrate judge engaged in misconduct on or off the bench or is determined to be disabled, the judicial council can direct the chief judge of the respective federal district court of the magistrate judge to take disciplinary action if the judicial council warrants in its investigations that disciplinary action has to be taken which may include suspension from hearing cases up to removal from the bench.
Judicial Councils are limited in their power as a judicial council CANNOT:
- That judicial councils cannot order the removal of any Article III judge appointed to hold office during good behavior from office.
- That a judicial council can only remove a magistrate or a bankruptcy judge during the term for which he or she is appointed only on the basis incompetency, misconduct, neglect of duty, or physical or mental disability. However, a magistrate or a bankruptcy judge’s office can be terminated if the Judicial Conference of a respective circuit determines that the services performed by his or her office are no longer needed.
Referral to Judicial Conference
In addition to the authority granted under the law, the judicial council of a respective circuit can refer any compliant that is legally defined under the law together with the record of any proceedings in relation to the complaint and its recommendations for appropriate action, to the Judicial Conference of the United States.
In any case in which the judicial council determines that a judge appointed for life is engaged in misconduct which includes:
- Conduct that constitutes for one or more grounds for impeachment under Article II of the Constitution of the United States or
- If a judge does not fully comply with orders and requests issued by the judicial council of a respective circuit (i.e. voluntary resignation), the judicial council has to certify this determination together with all the records of the complaint and a record of all proceedings by the judicial conference to the Judicial Conference of the United States.
The Judicial Conference of the United States upon referral of a complaint from the local judicial council can take further action on a judge involved in misconduct when reviewing the local-level judicial council investigation or the Judicial Conference makes its own exclusive determination that certian articles of impeachment may be warranted if they believe that the judge committed an offense that is considered to be impeachable. Upon making that determination, the Judicial Conference must forward its findings to the House Judiciary Committee as the committee has the power under the Constitution to start an impeachment inquiry.
Upon receipt of the determination and record of proceedings in the House of Representatives, the Clerk of the House of Representatives shall make available to the public the determination and any reasons for the determination.
In the event if a Federal judge has been convicted of a felony offense under State or Federal law and has exhausted all means of obtaining review of the conviction including an appeal of the conviction or the time for seeking further direct review of the conviction has expired under provisions set by law and no such review has been sought by the judge's legal counsel the Judicial Conference of the United States on a majority vote and without referral or certification of a separate investigation can send the House Judiciary Committee any and all court records proceedings that articles of impeachment may be warranted under the law.
Judges disciplined under the law
Since the law has been enacted since 1980, four federal judges had been levied with disciplinary action under the law including impeachment up to removal from the federal bench.
Most recently in 2009, former Southern District of Texas federal judge Samuel Kent was impeached by the House of Representatives for improper sexual misconduct towards female law clerks after the judicial council of the Fifth Circuit used the law to recommend impeachment for at the time the judge's alleged conduct. The other three times that a judge has been disciplined under the act was 1986 when former District of Nevada federal judge Harry Claiborne was convicted of tax evasion and at the time was the first Federal judge impeached since 1936. The other two impeachments happened in 1988, when Southern District of Florida judge Alcee Hastings was convicted of perjury to a federal grand jury and conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and 1989 when Southern District of Mississippi judge Walter Nixon was convicted of lying to a federal grand jury during a grand jury investigation.
In 2009, Wisconsin Congressman and former House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and long-tenured Senate Judiciary Committee member Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced a new Inspector General legislation that would help expedite investigations under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980.
The legislation if approved by Congress, would give broad power to not just investigate judges, but to investigate employees and courts of the Federal judiciary in which the powers including detecting and investigating waste, fraud, and abuse along with recommending new legislation to improve the overall efficiency of the federal judiciary.
- Federal judges who have been impeached
- Inspector General of the Federal Judiciary
- House Judiciary Committee
- ↑ "America.giv" Judicial Conduct and Disablity Act of 1980, June 24, 2009
- ↑ "Anwsers.com" Code of Judicial Conduct, June 23, 2009
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Cornell Law" Text of the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, June 24, 2009
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 "Cornell Law" Action By Judicial Council, June 23, 2009
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Cornell Law" Procedure for Warranting Impeachment, June 24, 2009
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 "WisPolitics" Inspector General of the Federal Judiciary Proposed, January 13, 2009