The Court on the Judiciary


Selected Case Summaries of Dismissed Complaints


Complaints Dismissed after Preliminary Investigation


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. 5, 1994

A litigant filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary, alleging that the judge in his case violated the Code of Judicial Conduct when he talked to a state senator about the litigant’s case and then tried to “cover up the offense.” A panel conducted an investigation and filed a report stating that the complaint was without any basis in fact. The panel found that the senator initiated contact with the judge after the litigant sent the senator copies of court filings in the litigant’s case and complained to the senator about problems he was having getting a recording of a hearing. The conversation between the judge and the senator was limited to the senator asking questions about how the litigant could get a recording of a court proceeding and the judge answering those questions. The panel also found that the judge did not consider the conversation when making the decision in the litigant’s case, and that the judge did not attempt to “to cover up the offense” by asking the senator to deny that the conversation took place. At the recommendation of the panel, the Chief Justice dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: As a general matter, a judge should not initiate or consider communications involving fewer than all of the parties who are legally entitled to be present during the discussion of any matter. The prohibition against such communications is not intended to preclude communications that in no way bear on the merits of a proceeding, such as the conversation in this case, which was neither initiated by the judge nor considered by the judge when deciding the case.

C.J. No. 21, 1994

After a litigant was ordered to pay thousands of dollars in back child support payments, the litigant filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary. The litigant alleged several instances when the judge in the case called the litigant derogatory names during a hearing. An investigatory panel asked the judge to file a written response to the complaint. The judge denied making the derogatory remarks. After listening to a recording of the hearing, the panel found that the judge had made none of the derogatory remarks alleged by the litigant. The panel also found that nothing in the recording supported the litigant’s contention that he was talked to or treated unfairly. At the panel’s recommendation, the Chief Justice dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: The Court on the Judiciary will dismiss allegations of judicial misconduct that are investigated and found to be without a basis in fact.

C.J. No. 8, 2013

A defendant in a criminal case filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the judge who sentenced him. The defendant claimed that the judge demeaned him and called him names during sentencing. The defendant claimed that the judge’s abusive statements did not appear in the sentencing transcript because the judge had the transcript altered to remove the statements. An investigatory panel asked the judge to file a written response to the complaint. The judge denied the defendant’s allegations. The panel listened to a recording of the sentencing and found that the recording did not include any of the statements alleged by the defendant. The panel also talked to other people in the courtroom during the defendant’s sentencing and found no evidence that the judge had demeaned the defendant or called him names. At the recommendation of the panel, the Chief Justice dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: A complaint was dismissed when none of the abusive statements alleged by the defendant were included in the audio recording of the sentencing proceeding and no one else in the courtroom during the proceeding corroborated the defendant’s claims.

C.J. No. 12, 2008

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary was filed by the mother of a juvenile in a delinquency case. The juvenile appeared before the judge in a video hearing. The mother claimed that twice during the video hearing, the judge called the juvenile a “stupid idiot.”

An investigatory panel asked the judge to file a response to the complaint. The judge stated that he did not recall the video hearing and could not recall ever calling anyone “stupid” or an “idiot.” Because there was no recording of the hearing and none of the other participants in the hearing had any recollection of the hearing, the panel gave the benefit of the doubt to the juvenile’s mother and assumed that the judge made the remark.

After finding that a judge calling a litigant a “stupid idiot” violates the Code provision that “a judge should be patient, dignified, respectful and courteous to litigants . . . and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” the panel considered whether the violation in this case warranted disciplinary action. The panel recommended that the complaint be dismissed under the following conditions: (1) the judge had to apologize to the juvenile’s mother for any comments that he made during the hearing that caused her distress; (2) the judge had to acknowledge in writing that the Code of Judicial Conduct requires him to be “patient, dignified, respectful and courteous” when acting as a judge, and that he would take care in the future to comply with that requirement; and (3) the complaint and the panel’s report would be placed in the judge’s personnel file. The Chief Justice accepted the panel’s recommendation and dismissed the complaint, noting that the judge had complied with the conditions devised by the panel to remedy the violation.

Main Point: The Code of Judicial Conduct provides that not every violation warrants disciplinary action. Whether or not a particular violation of the Code is serious enough for disciplinary action depends on the seriousness of the violation, the intent of the judge, whether there is a pattern of improper conduct, and the effect of the improper conduct on others or on the judicial system.

C.J. No. 11, 2014

The complaint in the Court on the Judiciary was filed by a litigant’s relative who was unhappy with action taken by the judge at a hearing in the litigant’s custody case. The litigant had residential placement of his three children and brought the children to court the day of the hearing so they could speak to the judge. The litigant and the children were late for the hearing and arrived at the courtroom a few minutes after the hearing started. When the litigant did not appear at the hearing at the scheduled time, the judge awarded residential placement of the children to the litigant’s opposing party, the children’s mother.

The litigant’s relative who filed the complaint in the Court on the Judiciary claimed that (1) the judge refused to let the litigant and the children into the courtroom because they arrived late for the hearing; (2) the judge awarded residential placement of the children to the opposing party to punish the litigant for being late and without regard for the welfare of the children; (3) the judge regularly ruled against parties who arrive late for custody hearings; and (4) the judge violated her legal duty to conduct a hearing and make her custody decision based on the best interests of the children.

As part of its investigation, a panel met with the judge to discuss the allegations in the complaint. The judge told the panel that when the litigant did not appear at the hearing, the judge entered judgment for the opposing party. The judge denied knowing that the litigant had arrived at the courtroom before she entered the judgment.

After the investigation, the panel filed a report recommending that the complaint should be dismissed. The panel found that the judge did not rule for the opposing part to punish the litigant, and that the practice of entering judgment against litigants who failed to appear for hearings was an accepted case management technique that was used by all of the judges in the court. The panel found that, when making the ruling, the judge stated that the litigant could file a motion to reopen, and that the judge, in fact, granted a motion to reopen filed by the litigant.

The panel found that the claim that the judge had not considered the best interests of the children was a legal issue that was appropriate for appeal and was not a matter of judicial misconduct. The Chief Justice accepted the panel’s report and recommendation and dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: The Court will accept a panel’s report recommending dismissal of a complaint when it is clear that the panel’s investigation was thorough and conscientious, its deliberations were thoughtful and careful, and its findings were well-reasoned.

C.J. No. 13, 1998

A litigant filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary claiming that the judge in his case called him a “jerk” during a hearing and appeared to be biased in favor of the litigant’s opposing party.

As part of its investigation, a panel met with the judge to discuss the allegations. The judge admitted that he may have used the word “jerk,” but that he did so when the parties began screaming and swearing at each other during a court recess, and that he directed the word to both parties. The panel found that the use of the word “jerk” by the judge—whether directed to just one or both parties—was not appropriate under the Code of Judicial Conduct, but that the use of the word here did not require a finding of misconduct. The panel also reported that its investigation did not reveal any evidence of bias on the part of the judge. The panel recommended that the complaint should be dismissed, but that the judge’s inappropriate use of the word “jerk” should be documented in the judge’s personnel file. The Chief Justice accepted the panel’s report and recommendation and dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: Not every violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct warrants disciplinary action. Whether or not a particular violation of the Code is serious enough for disciplinary action depends on the seriousness of the violation, the intent of the judge, whether there is a pattern of improper conduct, and the effect of the improper conduct on others or on the judicial system.

C.J. No. 20, 2002

A litigant filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary against the judge who presided over her case claiming that the judge was related to one of the witnesses for the opposing party. The litigant assumed that a family relationship existed because the judge and the witness had the same last name.

Under the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge should remove himself from a case if the judge is aware that a close relative is likely to be a witness. After an investigation, a panel found no evidence of a family relationship between the judge and the witness. At the recommendation of the panel, the Chief Justice dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: A complaint was dismissed when the investigatory panel found no evidence of a family relationship between the judge and a witness.

C.J. No. 5, 2000

A litigant filed a complaint in the Court on the Judiciary claiming that the judge was prejudiced against him and favored the litigant’s opposing party because the judge granted the opposing party’s request for continuances. Also, the litigant claimed that the judge violated the Code of Judicial Conduct when he attended a bar association event that was attended by people wearing pins endorsing a political candidate.

Upon review of the complaint, a panel declined to investigate the litigant’s claim that the judge should not have granted the continuances. The panel found that the claim was related to the litigant’s disagreement with the judge’s rulings or was a matter that could have been appealed.

After an investigation, the panel found that there was no evidence suggesting that the judge was biased against the litigant or that the judge engaged in political activity prohibited under the Code. The panel found that several attendees of the bar association event wore pins endorsing a political candidate but that no one, including the litigant’s current wife, said that they saw the judge wearing a pin endorsing a political candidate. The panel filed a report recommending that the complaint should be dismissed. The Chief Justice accepted the report and dismissed the complaint.

Main Point: A panel will decline to investigate claims arising from a litigant’s disagreement with the rulings of a judge.