The Court on the Judiciary


Selected Case Summaries of Dismissed Complaints


Complaints Dismissed after Initial Review


DISCLAIMER: These summaries do not reflect the work of the Court on the Judiciary. They have been prepared by the staff of the Court on the Judiciary for the convenience of the reader. These summaries may not be cited as legal authority.

 Selected Case Summaries of Dismissed Complaints
 Complaints Dismissed after Initial Review
 Complaints Dismissed after Preliminary Investigation
 Complaints Dismissed after Evidentiary Hearing

C.J. No. 14, 2015

A father in a child custody case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the Judge who presided over the parties’ petitions for custody and petitions for protection from abuse seeking a restraining order. The parties agreed that the petitions for protection from abuse should be resolved by a consent order without a finding of abuse. Under the terms of the consent order, the parties were prohibited from contacting each other for one year.

In his complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, Father claimed that the Judge was biased against him. Father based the allegation on a remark, made by the Judge during one of the custody hearings, which suggested that Father’s lawyer may need to obtain a restraining order against Father. Father contended that there was no basis in the record to make such a suggestion, and that the remark reflected the Judge’s belief that Father was more prone to violence than Mother.

Under the Rules of the Court on the Judiciary, a complaint must include any transcript or documents necessary to give the Court a fair and accurate account of the context in which the alleged misconduct occurred. If a complaint does not include the necessary transcript or documents, the complaint can be dismissed. In this case, Father did not provide the Court with a transcript of the hearing where the alleged remark was made. But to be sure dismissal was appropriate, the Chief Justice listened to an audio recording of the hearing.

The audio recording revealed that, at the end of the hearing, the Judge gave the parties an opportunity to ask questions about what was going to be expected of them going forward. Concerned that the parties would be expected to communicate with each other about the child’s upcoming doctor appointments and knowing that the consent order prohibiting such contact was still in effect, Father asked the Judge two questions about how he should communicate with Mother. In response to the first question, the Judge advised Father that while the consent order was still in effect he should communicate with Mother through Father’s lawyer. When Father asked the same question a second time, the Judge advised Father, in jest, that unless Father’s lawyer obtained a restraining order against Father, Father should communicate with Mother through his lawyer. After listening to the recording, the Chief Justice found it clear that the Judge’s remark was made light-heartedly and was received as such by Father and his lawyer. Because the audio recording did not reflect any indication that the Judge was biased against Father, and because Father’s other allegations of misconduct concerned the merits of the Judge’s rulings and were outside the scope of the Court on the Judiciary, the Chief Justice dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: A Judge’s comments that are alleged to suggest bias or impropriety must be considered in the context in which the comments were made.

C.J. No. 12, 2015

The plaintiff in a personal injury case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the Judge who dismissed the case. Plaintiff alleged that the Judge’s rulings in the case constituted an obstruction of justice, which is a felony. Also, the Plaintiff alleged that the Judge violated the Code of Conduct when the Judge allowed an attorney, who purportedly practiced law with the Judge’s brother, to represent the defendant.

The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding that the Plaintiff pled no facts rationally supporting the obstruction of justice claim. It was clear from the face of the complaint that Plaintiff was complaining about the merit of the Judge’s rulings, which were not appropriate for review by the Court on the Judiciary. The Chief Justice noted that there was no evidence that the Judge’s brother, or any relative of the Judge for that matter, practiced law with the attorney who represented the defendant, and that if Plaintiff believed a conflict existed, she could have filed a motion seeking the Judge’s disqualification.

Main Point: The Court on the Judiciary is not the appropriate place to seek a Judge’s disqualification in a case or to attack the merit of a Judge’s rulings.

C.J. No. 10, 2015

The mother in a child custody case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against a Judge who issued an order deciding that it was in the child’s best interest to change schools. Mother’s complaint challenged the order, claiming that it violated her Constitutional right to send her child to a religious school. Mother also claimed that the order led to the child missing a month of school because the school designated in the order was at capacity and would not enroll the child until there was an opening, and that no other school would accept the child. Moreover, according to Mother, when the Judge received a letter from the school’s legal counsel stating that the school could not admit the child right away, the Judge took no action to resolve the problem until the Judge was contacted by a state legislator to whom Mother turned for assistance.

The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding nothing in the complaint suggesting that the Judge committed judicial misconduct when ruling that the school transfer was in the best interest of the child. The Chief Justice concluded that Mother’s claim of religious bias offered no facts supporting such a conclusion and was not supported by the record, and that Mother could have raised her First Amendment claim in an appeal from the Judge’s order. Although sympathetic to the difficulty Mother faced when she learned that the school would not admit the child right away, the Chief Justice noted that Mother did not file a motion seeking clarification of the Judge’s order. Also, Mother stated in the complaint that when a request for guidance was made on her behalf by the state legislator, the Judge responded immediately.

Main Point: To bring a matter to the attention of a Judge or to seek relief in a case, a litigant should file an appropriate motion or petition in the court or case. The Court on the Judiciary does not conduct appellate review of a Judge’s decision. An allegation of judicial misconduct presenting no facts supporting the allegation does not state a claim for judicial discipline.

C.J. No. 9, 2015

The father in a child custody case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the Commissioner who dismissed Father’s petition for protection from abuse seeking a restraining order against the mother for her alleged abuse of the parties’ child. Father also filed a motion in the Court on the Judiciary seeking the identity of an “unnamed judicial officer with the same pattern of practice” as the Commissioner. Father’s motion was based on a matter reported by the Delaware Child Death Review Commission concerning a judicial officer’s failure to report a case of suspected child abuse. The Chief Justice dismissed the motion and ordered it stricken on the basis that Father had not alleged a connection to the matter addressed in the Child Death Review Commission’s report, and that Father could not use the judicial discipline process to obtain confidential information to which he was not entitled.

In his complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, Father claimed that the Commissioner’s dismissal of Father’s protection from abuse petition ignored Father’s allegations of child abuse. Father also claimed that the Commissioner was biased against male litigants, and that during the hearing on Father’s petition, the Commissioner violated Delaware’s Judicial Guidelines for Civil Hearings Involving Self-Represented Litigants. Those guidelines, which were adopted by the Delaware Supreme Court in 2011, provide guidance to judges in cases where one or both of the litigants are self-represented.

The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding that Father’s allegations of legal error and abuse of discretion did not invoke the jurisdiction of the Court on the Judiciary. The allegations in the complaint did not support a rational inference of wilful or persistent judicial misconduct. The complaint pled no facts rationally supporting an inference that the Commissioner was biased against male litigants. Delaware’s Judicial Guidelines for Civil Hearings Involving Self-Represented Litigants do not create additional standards for imposing judicial discipline.

Main Point: Alleged violations of Delaware’s Judicial Guidelines for Civil Hearings Involving Self-Represented Litigants do not invoke the jurisdiction of the Court on the Judiciary. Alleged errors in a judge’s rulings are subject to appellate review, not review by the Court on the Judiciary. A litigant must plead facts to support a rational inference of judicial bias.

C.J. No. 5, 2015

The father in a custody and visitation case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the Commissioner who ruled on a petition filed by the mother against the father for his alleged failure to obey a temporary custody and visitation order.

Mother filed the petition when Father failed to return the children after a visitation. At a hearing on the petition, Father testified that the children were at risk in Mother’s care. After finding no credible evidence to support Father’s claim that the children were at risk in Mother’s care, the Commissioner ruled that Father’s refusal to return the children violated the parties’ temporary custody and visitation order. The Commissioner found Father in contempt of the order and ordered him to return the children to Mother. Father did not appeal the Commissioner’s order.

In his complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, Father claimed that the hearing on Mother’s petition violated his right to due process, and that the Commissioner’s order returning the children to Mother placed the children in harm’s way. The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding nothing in the complaint supporting a rational inference that the Commissioner engaged in misconduct when hearing the petition. Father’s objection to the Commissioner’s order was a matter for appellate review.

Main Point: In the absence of anything in the complaint supporting a rational inference of wilful or persistent misconduct justifying the imposition of judicial discipline, a party’s disagreement with a judge’s rulings cannot form the basis of a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary. A litigant may not use the judicial discipline process as a substitute for appellate review.

C.J. No. 1, 2015

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary arose from a legal battle between a homeowner and his Homeowners’ Association (“HOA”) over the trimming of trees and shrubbery on the homeowner’s property. The complaint against the judge in the case was filed by the homeowner’s lawyer.

Under a settlement agreement and consent order, the homeowner agreed to trim the trees and shrubbery on his property, and the HOA agreed to dismiss its lawsuit against the homeowner. When the homeowner didn’t trim the trees and shrubbery by the agreed-upon date, the HOA filed a petition claiming that the homeowner was in violation of the consent order. After a hearing, the judge ruled that the homeowner was in violation of the consent order and awarded attorney’s fees to the HOA. The judge also encouraged the parties and their counsel to work together to resolve the case by coming up with a list of what work needed to be done and where. Unfortunately, counsel failed to bring the parties into agreement.

Eventually, the homeowner’s counsel filed a letter advising the judge and the HOA’s counsel that no further proceedings were necessary because the homeowner had transferred ownership of the property to his wife, who was not a party to the consent order. The HOA opposed the transfer, calling it a sham transaction, and asked the judge to make the homeowner’s wife a party in the case.

Following a hearing, the judge found that the homeowner, on the advice of his lawyer, transferred the property to his wife to prevent the enforcement of the consent order. The judge awarded attorney’s fees to the HOA. Also, the judge indicated that he would ask the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to look into the conduct of the homeowner’s lawyer and determine if the lawyer violated the Delaware Lawyers Rules of Professional Conduct.

In his complaint alleging judicial misconduct, the homeowner’s lawyer claimed that the judge was biased against him and that the homeowner did not receive a fair trial. After reviewing the complaint and the supporting documents to the complaint, which included the trial transcripts, the Chief Justice found that the record revealed no personal bias on the part of the judge. The Chief Justice found that the judge was remarkably patient in the face of exasperating, time-wasting, and unreasonable conduct by the parties and their lawyers. In the Order dismissing the complaint, the Chief Justice explained that a judge is required to manage the conduct of parties and lawyers and must hold parties and lawyers accountable when they engage in behavior that interferes with the proceedings. The Chief Justice concluded that if the homeowner or his lawyer believed that the homeowner did not receive a fair trial, the homeowner could raise those claims on appeal.

Main Point: A judge’s ruling that a party or the party’s lawyer engaged in unreasonable conduct is not actionable in the Court on the Judiciary when there is no factual basis supporting a rational inference that the judge was biased or committed misconduct.

C.J. No. 2, 2015

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary was filed by an out-of-state litigant who represented herself in a civil case in Delaware. The litigant filed her court documents with the help of a private document delivery service. The litigant mistakenly instructed the document service to deliver a pleading to the judge’s chambers instead of to the court clerk as required under the rules. When the litigant called to make sure that the court had received the pleading and was told the pleading had not been filed, the litigant became upset and began sending emails accusing the judge, the judge’s staff, and the court clerk of mishandling the pleading. In response to the litigant’s emails, the judge sent a letter advising the parties that they were required to obey the court’s filing rules.

Court staff eventually located the litigant’s 500-page pleading, but found that it was unbound and lacked a title page and a certificate of service. The pleading was returned to the litigant with instructions to correct it and re-file it with the court clerk. The litigant again became upset and sent a series of emails to the judge’s staff and court clerk. The litigant disputed that the pleading was filed without a title page and accused the court of tampering with the document.

The judge held a teleconference with the parties. During the teleconference, the judge told the litigant that she would be held in contempt of court if she did not stop sending harassing emails to the court. After the teleconference, the litigant filed a motion asking the judge to remove himself from the case because it was clear he was biased against her. The litigant also filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary.

In her complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, the litigant accused the judge of bullying her during the teleconference and of “aiding and abetting the tampering” of her pleading. After reviewing the complaint and supporting documents, which included a transcript of the teleconference, the Chief Justice found no evidence of bullying by the judge and no evidence of document tampering. In the Order dismissing the complaint, the Chief Justice found that the judge properly admonished the litigant for her inappropriate conduct.

Main Point: A judge’s admonishment of a litigant during a teleconference for leveling baseless charges of “document tampering” against the judge and court personnel was not actionable in the Court on the Judiciary. Nothing in the complaint and supporting documents supported the litigant’s charges that she was bullied by the judge during the teleconference or that the judge or court staff tampered with the litigant’s document.

C.J. No. 10, 2014

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary was filed by one of the parties in a dispute between two neighbors over sewer and water lines that ran across their adjacent properties. After a trial, the judge ruled for one of the parties on the legal issue but awarded no damages. Unhappy with the judge’s ruling in the case, the party filed a complaint claiming that the judge was biased against him and tried to force the parties to settle the case. The party alleged that the judge acted annoyed and angry during the party’s presentation, and that the judge’s tone of voice and facial expressions caused him to abandon some of his arguments, which deprived him of a fair trial.

After reviewing the complaint and the trial transcripts submitted by the party, the Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after concluding that it was based on the party’s disagreement with the judge’s rulings, which were subject to appellate review. The Chief Justice found that the trial transcripts demonstrated that the party was given ample time to make both written and oral arguments and that the judge patiently listened and reviewed the lengthy record so that both parties were treated fairly and given full opportunity to be heard. The Chief Justice noted that a judge may encourage parties to settle a case and that the judge’s suggestions that the parties settle their property dispute was not judicial misconduct. The Chief Justice also found that there was no indication in the complaint or the transcripts that the judge was biased against the party or that the judge’s views were influenced by anything other than the merits of the issues in the case.

Main Point: In the absence of anything in the complaint and supporting papers supporting a rational inference of wilful or persistent misconduct justifying the imposition of judicial discipline, a party’s disagreement with the rulings of the judge cannot form the basis of a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary.

C.J. No. 3, 2015

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary was filed by a litigant who filed a court case seeking the return of personal property from a state correctional officer. The correctional officer was represented by a deputy attorney general. The judge granted the correctional officer’s motion to dismiss the litigant’s case. Instead of appealing the dismissal to a higher court, the litigant filed a complaint against the judge. The litigant accused the judge and the deputy attorney general of conspiring to violate the litigant’s constitutional rights. After reviewing the complaint and the other documents filed by the litigant, the Chief Justice found that the litigant offered no facts supporting his claims of a conspiracy between the deputy attorney general and the. judge who dismissed the case, and that the litigant could have raised his legal claims of constitutional error in an appeal

Main Point: A litigant may not use the judicial discipline process as a substitute for appellate review.

C.J. No. 1, 1999

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary was filed by a plaintiff who was unsuccessful in a medical malpractice case and a legal malpractice case filed against the lawyer who represented him in the medical malpractice case. The same judge presided over both cases. The plaintiff appealed the judge’s decisions in both cases but was unsuccessful.

In his complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, the plaintiff claimed that the judge should not have presided over both cases. The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding that the plaintiff had not alleged any facts that the judge was biased, and that the complaint was an attempt by the plaintiff to seek another review of the decisions in the malpractice cases.

Main Point: A judge may preside over multiple cases involving the same party. In the absence of a factual basis supporting a rational inference of bias on the part of the judge, a judge who presides over multiple cases involving the same party is not subject to judicial discipline.

C.J. No. 5, 2014

The CEO of an insurance company filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the judge who granted an order allowing the state insurance commissioner to seize the company. The CEO filed a motion asking the judge to remove himself from the case because the judge was biased. After a hearing, the judge denied the motion.

In his one-page complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, the CEO listed instances when the judge was biased against him. The Chief Justice found that the complaint did not include facts suggesting that the judge had a motive to rule against the CEO for improper reasons and that, at best, the complaint alleged that the judge at times reacted curtly to the CEO during court proceedings. The Chief Justice further found that the judge was confronted by the need to address the CEO’s improper behavior several times during the proceedings, and that the judge’s occasional terseness was understandable and did not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding that the CEO raised issues that were based on his disagreement with the judge’s rulings, which could be reviewed on appeal.

Main Point: The judge’s occasional terseness in response to a litigant’s repeated improper courtroom behavior did not violate the Code of Conduct.

C.J. No. 6, 2014

A defendant in a criminal case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the judge who presided over the defendant’s trial and sentencing. The defendant accused the judge of racial discrimination and of plotting with the defendant’s trial counsel and the prosecutor to convict the defendant “any way they could.” Also, the defendant claimed that the judge stated at trial that she would “deny any and all future motions” filed by the defendant “without even examining the merit of the motions.” The Chief Justice reviewed the trial transcript and found no place where the judge stated or even suggested that she would “deny any and all future motions . . . without even examining the merit of the motions.” The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint on the basis that the general accusation of racial discrimination was not based on specific facts and that the claim of an alleged plot to “deny any and all future motions” was frivolous.

Main Point: A complaint based on facts not reflected in the record will be dismissed as frivolous.

C.J. No. 7, 2014

The complaint was filed by a tenant in a landlord tenant case. The tenant was arrested when the police found marijuana in her apartment. The tenant’s lease prohibited any drug-related criminal activity in the rental unit and on the property. The lease was clear that a single violation of the drug provision would be good cause to terminate the lease. Following the tenant’s arrest, the landlord filed an action to terminate the lease and evict the tenant.

The tenant’s eviction case was scheduled before her criminal case. At the hearing in the eviction case, the tenant testified that the lease should not be terminated because the criminal charges against her were based on an illegal search, seizure, and arrest. The judge in the eviction case found that, whether or not the search, seizure and arrest were illegal, the tenant had violated the provision in the lease forbidding illegal drug activity in the apartment. The judge terminated the lease and awarded possession of the apartment to the landlord. The tenant appealed the judge’s decision to a three-judge panel and a new trial was scheduled. Before the new trial in the eviction case took place, the charges against the tenant in the criminal case were dismissed.

At the new trial in the eviction case, the tenant testified that she kept marijuana in her apartment only for her personal use, which she thought was legal, and that the dismissal of the criminal charges against her proved that she did not violate the lease. The three-judge panel ruled that the tenant’s admitted use of marijuana in the apartment violated the provision in the lease prohibiting illegal drug activity in the apartment. The three-judge panel terminated the lease and awarded possession of the apartment to the landlord.

In her complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, the tenant claimed that the judge in the eviction case was prejudiced against her. The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding that the tenant had not supported her claim of prejudice with any facts that the judge was not impartial. The Chief Justice concluded that the tenant’s complaint was based on her disagreement with the judge’s decision that the tenant had violated the terms of the lease.

Main Point: In the absence of anything in the complaint and supporting papers supporting a claim of bias, a party’s disagreement with the rulings of the judge cannot form the basis of a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary.

C.J. No. 9, 2014

A defendant in a criminal case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the judge who denied the defendant’s motion seeking a modification of sentence. The defendant claimed that the judge’s denial of the motion was improper because the motion was based on the defendant’s immediate need for medical treatment. The Chief Justice dismissed the complaint after finding that the defendant’s claim was based on his disagreement with the judge’s decision, which the defendant could have appealed. The Chief Justice also noted that, to the extent the defendant was claiming that he had a compelling need for immediate medical attention that he was not receiving in prison, the defendant could file a civil case and request a hearing, but that the defendant’s remedy was not in the judicial discipline process in the Court on the Judiciary.

Main Point: A complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the judge who denied an incarcerated defendant’s motion for modification of sentence was not the correct procedural device to remedy a claim that the prison was depriving the defendant of adequate medical care.