An explanation of how to file a complaint with the CJC and a summary of the procedures followed by the CJC in response to a complaint, as governed by its enabling statute (M.G.L. c. 211C) and the Rules of the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
How to file a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct
A complaint must be reduced to writing before the CJC can review it. Any person may file a complaint with the CJC. A person who wishes to file a complaint does not have to be directly involved in a court matter to file a complaint. If someone wishes to file a complaint but fears reprisal or simply wishes to keep his or her name out of the complaint, the CJC's Rules permit a complaint to be filed anonymously.
To ensure that a complaint contains all of the necessary information, it is preferable for a complainant to either download and fill out the complaint form provided by the CJC or submit a complaint through the online form provided on this website. However, if a complainant does not wish to use either method, a letter to the CJC, which contains all the necessary information, may also suffice.
If someone wishes to file a complaint with the CJC but has a disability that prevents him/her from reducing a complaint to writing, he/she should contact the CJC at 617-725-8050 to discuss an appropriate accommodation.
What happens after a complaint is filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct
When the CJC receives a complaint, the staff then evaluates or "screens" it to determine whether the complaint falls within the CJC's jurisdiction. Once filed, a complaint cannot be withdrawn. In order for a complaint to be docketed, it must allege specific facts which, if true, would constitute judicial misconduct or disability. If the complaint does not allege sufficient specific facts, it cannot be docketed for investigation or preliminary inquiry. If the complaint does allege sufficient specific facts, it is docketed and assigned a complaint number. Under most circumstances, the person filing a complaint will be notified by mail of the screening decision.
Original documents that a complainant might need should not be filed with a complaint. All complaints filed with the CJC are retained by the CJC and are not returned, even if they are not docketed for investigation or preliminary inquiry.
Frivolous or Unfounded Complaints
If, upon screening, the Executive Director determines that a complaint alleges sufficient specific facts to be docketed but is likely not to have merit, it is docketed as "frivolous or unfounded" under Commission Rule 6D. The complaint then goes to the members of the CJC for consideration of whether it should be summarily dismissed.
If, upon screening, the Executive Director determines that a complaint alleges sufficient specific facts to be docketed but the complaint alleges judicial misconduct that occurred more than one year prior to the filing of the complaint, the complaint goes to the members of the CJC for consideration of whether there is good cause to investigate it. Good cause considerations include how serious and how old the allegations are, why the complaint was not filed sooner, and whether evidence and witnesses' memories of the events are likely to still exist. After a finding of no good cause, a complaint is dismissed, and the judge and complainant are so notified. After a finding of good cause, a complaint is investigated.
Before an anonymous complaint can be investigated, it must first go to the members of the CJC to determine whether the seriousness or the notoriety of the misconduct alleged outweighs the potential prejudicial effect of investigating the complaint. The complaint is thereafter dismissed or investigated, depending upon the vote of the majority of the members of the CJC.
When does the CJC notify a judge about a complaint
In most cases, the judge is immediately notified of the complaint and invited to respond if he or she wishes. If the complaint is considered right away by the CJC for summary dismissal and the members of the CJC vote to dismiss the complaint, notice of the complaint will be given to the judge at the same time the judge receives a letter notifying him or her of the dismissal.
If the Executive Director determines, upon screening a complaint, that notifying the judge would create a substantial risk of evidence being lost or destroyed, or a substantial danger of retaliation by the judge against the complainant or any other person mentioned in the complaint, the complaint goes to the members of the CJC for initial consideration of whether there exists such a risk or danger pursuant to CJC Rule 6G.
Unless the CJC finds that there is such a risk or danger, the judge receives full notice of the complaint before the investigation is begun. If the CJC does find that there is such a risk or danger, the CJC can withhold notice of the complaint from the judge in whole or in part. The complaint is then investigated. Notice is withheld only until such risk or danger ends. The judge then receives full notice of the complaint.
What happens when the CJC investigates a complaint
When a complaint is investigated by the CJC, that investigation is conducted by a staff attorney employed by the CJC. Each of the CJC's staff attorneys has extensive legal and courtroom experience. The staff attorney assigned the complaint conducts a prompt, confidential investigation, which may include listening to the audio record of court proceedings, reviewing transcripts, interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, and conducting legal research. At the conclusion of the investigation, the members of the CJC review the report of the investigation, the judge's response, if any, and any other relevant materials.
The members of the CJC then vote whether to dismiss the matter, propose to the judge that the complaint be resolved through an Agreed Disposition, propose to the judge that the complaint be resolved through a CJC Rule 13 referral to the Supreme Judicial Court, or proceed to a Sworn Complaint or Statement of Allegations.
How may the CJC resolve or dispose of a complaint after investigation
If the CJC finds, after investigation of a complaint, that there is no evidence of judicial misconduct, the members of the CJC may vote to dismiss the complaint.
Dismissal with an Expression of Concern
If the CJC finds, after investigation of a complaint, that there is no evidence of judicial misconduct or the judge's conduct does not warrant discipline, the CJC may choose to include an "expression of concern" in its dismissal letter to the judge. This is meant to be helpful advice to a judge to assist him or her to avoid any future violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
If the CJC finds that a judge has committed judicial misconduct, under appropriate circumstances, it may propose to a judge that the complaint be resolved through an Agreed Disposition.
An Agreed Disposition may take the form of an Informal Adjustment in which the CJC informs or admonishes the judge that certain conduct is or may be cause for discipline. Another form of Agreed Disposition is a Private Reprimand to the judge. An Agreed Disposition requires the agreement of the judge and often includes a period during which the CJC places conditions on the judge's conduct. The conditions may include counseling, education, assignment of a mentor judge, monitoring by the CJC for a specified period of time, voluntary retirement, or other appropriate conditions. In most cases, this type of disposition has a valuable, favorable effect on a judge's conduct.
Direct Submission to the Supreme Judicial Court
If the CJC finds that a judge has committed judicial misconduct and an Informal Adjustment/Agreed Disposition has not been reached, but the judge does not wish to proceed to a public hearing, the CJC and the judge may agree to submit the matter directly and confidentially to the Supreme Judicial Court pursuant to CJC Rule 13.
Under Rule 13A, the CJC and the judge agree upon the facts, but not upon the discipline to be recommended, and the Supreme Judicial Court's decision is final.
Under Rule 13B, the CJC and the judge agree upon the recommendation for discipline, but not upon the facts. If the Supreme Judicial Court does not adopt the agreed recommendation, the matter returns to the CJC for further proceedings.
What happens when the CJC does not dismiss a complaint or reach an agreement with a judge to resolve a complaint
Sworn Complaint or Statement of Allegations
After considering the evidence obtained during the investigation of a complaint, if the complaint cannot be disposed of through dismissal, Agreed Disposition, or a Rule 13 submission, the members of the CJC must then vote whether to proceed to the next level of charging, which is a Statement of Allegations. If the CJC votes to proceed to a Statement of Allegations, a Statement of Allegations is prepared which describes the evidence of misconduct and alleged violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Statement of Allegation is then sent to the judge. The judge then has twenty-one days in which to respond in writing and to request an appearance before the CJC. The judge may be accompanied by counsel.
After the twenty-one days allowed for a judge's response to the Statement of Allegations, and after the judge's appearance, if any, the members of the CJC can vote to dispose of the matter by dismissing the complaint, by issuing Formal Charges, or by proposing to the judge that the complaint be disposed of in one of the following three ways:
(1) Informal Adjustment;
(2) Private Reprimand; or
(3) Direct submission to the Supreme Judicial Court under Commission Rule 13.
When Formal Charges are issued, they are sent to the judge, who has ten days to respond. After reviewing the judge's response, if the CJC decides to continue with the formal proceedings, it files the Formal Charges and the judge's response with the Supreme Judicial Court and both documents become public.
When Formal Charges are filed with the Supreme Judicial Court, the CJC requests that the Supreme Judicial Court appoint a Hearing Officer. The CJC then schedules a hearing, which is open to the public.
The rules of evidence applicable to civil proceedings in Massachusetts apply at the hearing. The CJC has the burden of proving the charges by clear and convincing evidence.
Within thirty days after the conclusion of the hearing, the Hearing Officer submits a report to the CJC containing proposed findings and recommendations.
Within ninety days of receiving the Hearing Officer's report, the CJC must submit its own report and recommendations to the Supreme Judicial Court. Before the CJC does so, the judge and the complainant have the right to be heard regarding the CJC's recommendation for discipline. That hearing is open to the public; however, the CJC deliberations which follow are closed. The CJC's conclusions and recommendations may differ from those of the Hearing Officer.
The Supreme Judicial Court may adopt the CJC's recommendations concerning discipline or impose greater or lesser discipline. The CJC's authority to dispose of a complaint is limited to dismissal or Agreed Disposition. The CJC does not have the power to impose disciplinary sanctions without the consent of the judge; only the Supreme Judicial Court has that power. The CJC may recommend that the Supreme Judicial Court impose a greater variety of sanctions upon a judge than is available to the CJC, including public censure.
Neither the CJC nor the Supreme Judicial Court has the power to remove a judge from the bench. The Legislature must act in order to remove a judge for misconduct. The Governor and Governor's Council may retire a judge for mental or physical disability, before the mandatory retirement age of seventy. The complainant and the judge are notified of the final disposition of a complaint.
What happens when a complaint alleges that a judge has a physical or mental disability affecting judicial performance
In dealing with complaints that allege physical or mental disabilities that affect a judge's performance, the CJC follows the same procedures described above for proceedings on complaints alleging judicial misconduct.