March 13, 2008 · The Judicial Conference of the United States on Tuesday unanimously approved a binding set of procedures to handle judicial complaints.
The new rules, which take effect in 30 days, seek to expand openness by making final orders of judicial complaints public. For example, the order may be placed on the public Web sites of the courts and, in most cases, final sanctions will name the judge involved.
The 27-judge body, chaired by Chief Justice John Roberts, acted in response to recommendations from the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act Study Committee.
Action has been taken on all 12 of the suggestions from the committee, which released a report in 2006 that outlined problems with how complaints against judges were managed – mainly pointing out that very few of the complaints that are filed against federal judges are actually investigated.
The new set of rules hold that some portions of the process will remain confidential and sealed. An order dismissing a complaint will reveal neither the complainant or the subject of the complaint. Also, a chief judge on an appeals court will maintain the authority to investigate judicial conduct, even if no formal complaint is ordered.
Dick Carelli, a spokesman for the federal courts, explained that this is the first time that a uniform set of rules dealing with judicial complaints has been instituted nationwide. Previously, differing rules allowed inconsistencies within the process from one court to another.
“We hope this will bring more uniformity, more efficiency and ultimately more transparency to the process,” Carelli said.