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Authorizing Statute

MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL LAWS
CHAPTER 211C
(as amended by St. 1987, c. 656)

To view the entire text of General Laws Chapter 211C in Adobe PDF format, please click here.


SECTION 1. Establishment; membership; expenses; term; chairman

There shall be a commission on judicial conduct consisting of nine members. Three judges shall be appointed by the justices of the supreme judicial court, none of whom shall be justices of said court and no two of whom shall be from the same department of the trial court. Three members of the bar shall be appointed by the chief administrative justice of the trial court, none of whom shall be judges. Three members shall be appointed by the governor, none of whom shall be members of the bar. The members of the commission shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for all expenses reasonably incurred by them in the performance of their duties. Members of the commission shall serve for six year terms. Commission membership shall terminate if a member ceases to be qualified for the appointment. A vacancy shall be filled by the appointing authority for the remainder of the term. Upon
the expiration of the term of office of a member, his successor shall be appointed in the manner aforesaid. No person shall succeed himself as a member of the commission except when his membership is due to an appointment to fill a vacancy for the remainder of an unexpired term. One or
more alternate members, as necessary, shall be elected in the manner prescribed for initial appointments in each representative class, and shall serve at the call of the chairman to take the place of those who are disqualified from participating in a commission proceeding pursuant to commission rules.

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SECTION 2. Investigations; hearings; recommendations

(1) All judges of the trial court, the appeals court and the supreme judicial court shall be subject to discipline pursuant to this chapter. The commission on judicial conduct shall have the authority to receive information, investigate, conduct hearings, and make recommendations to the supreme judicial
court concerning allegations of judicial misconduct and allegations of mental or physical disability affecting a judge's performance.

(2) The commission shall have jurisdiction over investigations and recommendations regarding discipline arising from the conduct of all judges, including any retired judge who is assigned to perform the duties of a judge for a temporary period. This jurisdiction shall include all conduct that occurred
prior to a judge's assuming judicial office, and conduct of a lawyer who is no longer a judge that occurred while he held judicial office; provided, however, that in evaluating such conduct, the commission shall give substantial weight to relevant decisions of the supreme judicial court and the board of bar overseers regarding bar discipline. The foregoing shall not be construed to derogate the
inherent authority of the supreme judicial court to supervise and discipline judges, the authority of the governor with the consent of the council to remove a judge upon the address of both houses of the legislature or to retire a judge involuntarily because of advanced age or mental or physical disability, the
authority of the legislature to remove a judge through impeachment, or the supervisory authority of the chief justices of the appeals and supreme judicial courts or of the chief and department administrative justices of the trial court.

(3) Except where the commission determines otherwise for good cause, the commission shall not deal with complaints arising out of acts or omissions occurring more than one year prior to the date commission proceedings are initiated pursuant to section five; provided, however, that, when the last
episode of an alleged pattern of recurring judicial conduct arises within the one year period, the commission may consider all prior acts or omissions related to such alleged pattern of conduct.

(4) In the absence of fraud, corrupt motive, bad faith, or clear indication that the judge's conduct violates the code of judicial conduct, the commission shall not take action against a judge for making findings of fact, reaching a legal conclusion, or applying the law as he understands it. Commission proceedings shall not be a substitute for an appeal.

(5) Grounds for discipline shall include:

(a) conviction of a felony;

(b) willful misconduct in office;

(c) willful misconduct which, although not related to judicial duties, brings the judicial office into disrepute;

(d) conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice or conduct unbecoming a judicial officer, whether conduct in office or outside of judicial duties, that brings the judicial office into disrepute; or

(e) any conduct that constitutes a violation of the codes of judicial conduct or professional responsibility.

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SECTION 3. Report; appropriations; offices; rules; immunity; executive director; proceedings

(1) The commission shall report only to the supreme judicial court. The commission shall be allowed for its purposes annually such amount as shall be appropriated for it by the general court. The commission shall be provided with adequate offices. The commission may adopt rules of procedure, without compliance with the provisions of chapter thirty A, but subject to the approval of the supreme judicial court, and may develop appropriate forms for its proceedings. Such rules shall establish reasonable time limits for all stages of commission proceedings and standards for extending time limits
applicable to commission proceedings.

(2) Members of the commission, hearing officers, commission counsel, and staff shall be absolutely immune from suit for all conduct in the course of their official duties. A complaint submitted to the commission or its staff and communications related to the complaint shall be absolutely privileged, and no civil action predicated on the complaint or on such a communication may be instituted against any complainant or witness or his counsel; provided, however, such immunity from suit shall apply only to communications to the commission or its staff and shall not apply to public disclosure of information
contained in or relating to the complaint.

(3) The commission shall appoint an executive director who shall serve at the pleasure of the commission. The executive director shall be a member of the Massachusetts bar, shall serve full time, and shall not engage in the practice of law. The executive director shall receive an annual salary, subject to appropriation, which is fixed by the commission consistent with classification and compensation policies of the supreme judicial court, and such expenses as are approved by the commission and incurred in the discharge of the executive director's duties.

(4) The executive director shall have duties and responsibilities as prescribed by the commission, including the authority to:

(a) receive information, allegations, and complaints;

(b) make preliminary evaluations;

(c) screen complaints;

(d) conduct investigations;

(e) recommend dispositions;

(f) maintain the commission's records;

(g) maintain statistics concerning the operation of the commission and     make them available to the commission and to the supreme judicial court;

(h) prepare the commission's budget for approval by the commission and administer its funds;

(i) employ and supervise other members of the commission's staff;

(j) prepare the annual report of the commission's activities required pursuant to section four; and

(k) employ, with the approval of the commission and subject to appropriation, special counsel, private investigators, or other experts, and clerical assistants, as necessary to investigate and process matters before the commission and before the supreme judicial court. Neither the attorney general's staff nor law enforcement officers shall be employed for this purpose.

(5) The supreme judicial court may delegate the power to enforce process in commission proceedings to another appropriate court. A witness at any stage of commission proceedings may rely on any privilege applicable to civil proceedings.

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SECTION 4. Annual report

The commission shall submit annually to the general court and the supreme judicial court a report of its activities together with recommendations. This report shall be a matter of public record and shall be printed as a public document.

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SECTION 5. Initiation of proceedings; inquiry, investigation and evaluation; detailed complaint or statement of allegations; formal charges

(1) Commission proceedings relating to the conduct of a judge may be initiated by an oral or written complaint stating facts that, if true, would be grounds for discipline, or by the commission's own motion when the commission receives reasonable information, including reports in the news media, as to conduct that appears to constitute grounds for discipline. Upon receipt of such complaint or adoption of such motion, the commission shall promptly notify the judge, except as provided in subdivision (2), and shall conduct a prompt, discreet and confidential inquiry, investigation and evaluation.

(2) The commission shall notify the judge of the proceedings and their subject matter before commencing any inquiry, investigation or evaluation in all cases except as follows:

(a) where, because of the nature of the complaint, delay is necessary in order to preserve evidence, notice may be delayed until such evidence is obtained, until the matter is dismissed, or until the sworn complaint or statement of allegations is served pursuant to subdivision (6), whichever occurs first;

(b) where the identity of the complainant could be readily determined by the judge from the nature of the complaint and there is a danger of reprisal against the complainant, notice may be delayed until the danger of reprisal ends, until the matter is dismissed, or until the sworn complaint or statement of allegations is served pursuant to subdivision (6), whichever occurs first; provided, however, that in any such case where there is an ongoing danger of reprisal, the notice and the statement of allegations may be drafted so as to conceal the complainant's identity.

(3) The commission shall discourage and shall promptly dismiss complaints which are frivolous, unfounded or outside commission jurisdiction. The commission shall notify the judge and the complainant, if any, of such dismissal in accordance with the provisions of subdivisions (1), (2) and (10).

(4) At any stage of the proceeding, the commission shall be entitled within the time limits established by commission rule to compel by subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses, including the judge, and to provide for the inspection of documents, books, accounts, and other records.

(5) After a thorough inquiry, investigation and evaluation, the executive director shall recommend to the commission, and the commission shall determine, by majority vote, whether there is adequate reason to proceed to the preparation of a detailed complaint or statement of allegations. If so, the commission shall request that the complainant file a detailed sworn complaint against the judge. When a sworn complaint is not obtained, the executive director shall prepare a clear statement of the allegations against the judge and the alleged facts forming their basis. Said complaint or statement of allegations shall clearly set forth each act of misconduct where more than one act of misconduct is alleged, and shall state clearly the provision of statute, code of judicial conduct or code of professional responsibility alleged to have been violated by each alleged act of misconduct.

(6) The judge shall be served promptly with a copy of the sworn complaint or statement of allegations.

(7) The judge shall have twenty-one days after receipt of the sworn complaint or statement of allegations to respond in writing to the charges and, if he wishes, to file a written request for a personal appearance before the commission.

(8) The judge shall be entitled to counsel of his own choice. After the judge is served with the sworn complaint or statement of allegations, he shall be entitled before the issuance of formal charges and within the time limits established by commission rule to compel by subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses, through depositions, and to provide for the inspection of documents, books, accounts, written or electronically recorded statements, and other records. The judge may file written material for commission consideration before the issuance of formal charges.

(9) If the judge requests a personal appearance before the commission, he may be accompanied by counsel, his statement and that of his counsel shall be recorded, and the commission shall not issue formal charges until after such personal appearance.

(10) If at any time prior to the issuance of formal charges the commission determines that it does not have sufficient cause to proceed, the commission shall terminate the proceedings by closing the investigation or dismissing the complaint or the statement of allegations. In that event, the commission shall give notice to the complainant, if any, and to the judge that it has found insufficient cause to proceed. The file in any matter so terminated shall be closed.

(11) The commission may not refer subsequently to a file closed before the issuance of formal charges except in the following circumstances:

(a) in a subsequent proceeding that raises similar allegations against the judge and indicates a pattern of recurring judicial misconduct;

(b) in a subsequent proceeding alleging conduct in violation of conditions imposed as part of an informal adjustment pursuant to subdivision (1) of section eight;

(c) in connection with a decision as to the recommended sanction to be imposed in a subsequent proceeding.

(12) The commission may, upon notice to the judge, amend the allegations prior to a finding of sufficient cause to issue formal charges. The judge may amend his written response or submit additional written material for commission consideration before such finding.

(13) After the judge's personal appearance pursuant to subdivision (9), if any, and after the expiration of any time limit upon written submissions by the judge pursuant to subdivisions (8) and (12), the commission shall determine whether there is sufficient cause to issue formal charges. A finding of sufficient cause to issue formal charges shall require the concurrence of the majority of all commission members that there is a preponderance of credible evidence that the judge's conduct constitutes grounds for discipline.

(14) When sufficient cause is found, the commission shall issue formal charges stating those allegations as to which sufficient cause is found. A copy of the formal statement of charges shall be served promptly upon the judge and the judge shall have ten days to respond. Immediately thereafter, a copy of such formal statement of charges and of the judge's written response shall be filed with the supreme judicial court, which shall promptly appoint a hearing officer. Confidentiality shall cease upon this filing, as provided in section six, and after this filing the proceedings shall be governed by the provisions of section seven.

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SECTION 6. Confidentiality

(1) Except as provided in this section, all proceedings of the commission shall be confidential until there has been a determination of sufficient cause and formal charges have been filed with the supreme judicial court. The commission shall ensure that a procedure applicable to commission
members, counsel and staff is established for enforcing confidentiality.

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision (1), the judge may waive his right to confidentiality prior to a finding of sufficient cause. In addition, in any case in which the subject matter becomes public, through independent sources or through a waiver of confidentiality by the judge, the commission may issue such statements as it deems appropriate in order to confirm the pendency of the investigation, to clarify the procedural aspects of the disciplinary proceedings, to explain the right of the judge to a fair hearing without prejudgment, or to state that the judge denies the allegations.

(3) If the inquiry was initiated as a result of notoriety or because of conduct that is a matter of public record, and is subsequently terminated because there is insufficient cause to proceed, information concerning the insufficiency of cause to proceed may be released by the commission.

(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter to the contrary, proceedings pursuant to this chapter may remain confidential, even after a finding of sufficient cause, if the judge, the commission, and the complainant, if any, all concur.

(5) If any federal agency, the judicial nominating council, or any like agency for screening candidates for judicial appointment which succeeds the judicial nominating council, seeks information or written materials from the commission concerning a judge, in connection with his selection or appointment as a judge, information may be divulged in accordance with procedures prescribed by
commission rule, including reasonable notice to the judge affected, unless the judge signs a waiver of the right to such notice. If, in connection with the assignment of a retired judge to judicial duties, the chief justice of the supreme judicial court or the appeals court or the chief administrative justice of the trial
court seeks information or written materials from the commission about the judge, information may be divulged in accordance with procedures prescribed by commission rule, including reasonable notice to the judge affected, unless the judge signs a waiver of the right to such notice.
 

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SECTION 7. Hearing; recommendation for discipline; attorneys' fees

(1) The commission shall schedule a hearing without undue delay after the appointment of the hearing officer by the supreme judicial court. The commission shall schedule the time and place of the hearing, and shall notify the judge and all counsel of the hearing. The judge shall be afforded ample
opportunity to prepare for the hearing and may amend his written response to the charges.

(2) The judge and the commission shall each be entitled to discovery to the extent available in civil proceedings, within the time limits provided by commission rules. The judge and the commission shall each be entitled to compel by subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses, including the
judge, and to provide for the inspection of documents, books, accounts, and other records.

(3) The formal hearing shall be public and shall be conducted before the hearing officer appointed by the supreme judicial court. At the hearing, all testimony shall be under oath, the rules of evidence applicable to civil proceedings shall apply, and the judge shall be accorded due process of
law.

(4) An attorney or attorneys of the commission staff, or special counsel retained for the purpose, shall present the matter to the hearing officer. The commission shall have the burden of proving the charges by clear and convincing evidence. The judge and the commission shall be permitted to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses, subject to the rules of evidence applicable to civil proceedings.

(5) The raising of mental or physical condition as a defense constitutes a waiver of medical privilege.

(6) By leave of the commission or with the consent of the judge, the statement of charges may be amended after commencement of the hearing only if the amendment is technical in nature and the judge and his counsel are given adequate time to prepare a response.

(7) Every hearing shall be transcribed.

(8) The hearing officer shall submit to the commission and to the judge a report containing proposed findings and recommendations, the transcripts of testimony and all exhibits. Counsel for the judge and commission shall have twenty days after receipt of such report to submit written objections to
the findings and recommendations, and said objections shall become part of the record.

(9) Before the commission reaches its decision, the judge and the complainant, if any, shall have the right to be heard before the commission regarding its recommendation for discipline, and their statements shall be transcribed. Such hearing shall be public, but commission deliberations regarding such recommendation shall be conducted in executive session. The commission shall reach a decision on the basis of the full record within ninety days after such hearing, unless there is good cause for delay. Its conclusions may differ from those proposed by the hearing officer. Its decision shall state specific
reasons for all conclusions and recommendations.

(10) A recommendation for discipline shall be reported to the supreme judicial court only if a majority of all members of the commission concur that discipline should be recommended. Any dissent as to the need for or the form of discipline shall be transmitted with the majority decision. A copy of
said recommendation and dissent shall be given to the judge and shall become part of the public record. The entire record, including transcripts, exhibits and the hearing officer's report, shall be transmitted to the supreme judicial court.

(11) If a majority of the members of the commission concur that discipline should not be recommended, the matter shall be dismissed, and the judge and complainant, if any, shall be notified of such dismissal.

(12) The provisions of subdivisions (10) and (11) shall not be construed to prohibit the commission from disposing of the matter by informal adjustment pursuant to section eight as a result of commission deliberations regarding a recommendation for discipline.

(13) The expense of witnesses shall be borne by the party that calls them unless:

(a) physical or mental disability of the judge is in issue, in which case the commission shall reimburse the judge for the reasonable expenses of the witnesses whose testimony related to the disability; or

(b) the supreme judicial court determines that the imposition of costs and expert witness fees will work a financial hardship or injustice upon him and orders that those fees be reimbursed.

(14) All witnesses shall receive fees and expenses in the same manner as witnesses in civil actions before the courts. A transcript of all proceedings shall be provided to the judge without cost. Except as provided in subdivision (13), costs of all proceedings shall be at public expense.

(15) With the approval of the supreme judicial court, a judge shall be entitled to the payment of reasonable attorneys' fees by the commonwealth in any case where the matter is dismissed by the commission at any stage after the filing of a sworn complaint or statement of charges, where the supreme judicial court determines despite a commission recommendation for discipline that no sanction is justified, or where the supreme judicial court determines that justice will be served by the payment of such fees.

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SECTION 8. Informal adjustment; sanctions

(1) With the agreement of the judge, the commission may by informal adjustment dispose of a complaint at any stage of the proceedings by:

(a) informing or admonishing the judge that his conduct is or may be cause for discipline;

(b) directing professional counseling and assistance for the judge;

(c) imposing conditions on the judge's conduct; or

(d) persuading a judge to retire voluntarily.

(2) The commission may dismiss a sworn complaint, a statement of allegations or a formal statement of charges as unjustified or unfounded at any stage during the proceedings.

(3) The commission may issue a private reprimand with the consent of the judge.

(4) The commission may recommend to the supreme judicial court one or more of the following sanctions:

(a) removal;

(b) retirement;

(c) imposition of discipline as an attorney;

(d) imposition of limitations or conditions on the performance of judicial duties;

(e) public or private reprimand or censure;

(f) imposition of a fine;

(g) assessment of costs and expenses;

(h) imposition of any other sanction which is reasonable and lawful.
 

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SECTION 9. Charges against supreme judicial court member

The chief justice and the six most senior justices of the appeals court other than the chief justice shall serve in the place of the supreme judicial court when charges are brought against a member of the supreme judicial court.

 

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SECTION 10. Physical or mental disabilities

(1) The commission shall have authority to receive information, investigate, conduct hearings, and make recommendations to the court relating to mental or physical disability affecting a judge's performance.

(2) In carrying out its responsibilities regarding physical or mental disabilities, the commission shall follow the same procedures that it employs with respect to discipline for misconduct.

(3) If the judge in a matter relating to physical or mental disability is not represented by counsel, the commission shall appoint an attorney to represent him at public expense.

(4) If a complaint involves the physical or mental condition of the judge, a denial of the alleged condition shall constitute a waiver of medical privilege and the judge shall be required to produce his medical records.

(5) If medical privilege is waived, the judge shall be deemed to have consented to a physical or mental examination by a qualified medical practitioner designated by the commission. The report of the medical practitioner shall be furnished to the commission and the judge.

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SECTION 11. Advisory committee

The supreme judicial court may establish an advisory committee on the code of judicial conduct, which may render advisory opinions to judges at their request or on its own motion.

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