Shenanigans: How to Report Judicial Misconduct in the DC Circuit

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 21, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Unscrupulous judges' shenanigans are typically the domain of television shows: payoffs, ex parte hearings, and favoritism make for great entertainment.

So what if the federal judge presiding over your case decides that life should imitate art?

Congress, anticipating this possibility, instituted a judicial misconduct reporting procedure in 1980. Under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, anyone can file a complaint in court to report a federal judge's bad behavior. But before you file a complaint, remember that you need evidence. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals warns that almost all complaints filed in recent years have been dismissed for lack of evidence.

Judicial misconduct differs from judicial error. A litigant who believes that a judge made a bad call in a case may not use the judicial misconduct channels to report judicial error, regardless of how extreme the error might be. Need further clarification on the distinctions between judicial misconduct and judicial error? Here's a non-exhaustive list of acts Congress categorizes as judicial misconduct:

  • Using the judge's office to obtain special treatment for friends or relatives
  • Accepting bribes, gifts, or other personal favors related to the judicial office
  • Having improper discussions with parties or counsel for one side in a case
  • Treating litigants or attorneys in a demonstrably egregious or hostile manner
  • Discriminating against attorneys or litigants based on a legally-protected attribute
  • Engaging in partisan political activity or making inappropriately partisan statements
  • Soliciting funds for organizations

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals website includes a form for reporting judicial misconduct. Judicial misconduct complaints must be legible and should be typewritten. A complaint must contain a contact address, a description of the relevant events, a description of when and where the events took place, and any other relevant information that would assist an investigator in verifying the claim. Complaints should be detailed, and identify any transcripts or witnesses that can corroborate the details of the complaint.

The complaint-filer is required to sign the judicial misconduct complaint under penalty of perjury. When the complaint is ready to be filed, it should be sealed in an envelope marked "Complaint of Misconduct" or "Complaint of Disability," and delivered by mail or in person to: Clerk's Office, DC Circuit Court of Appeals, E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20001-2866. There should be no indication of the subject judge's name on the envelope.

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