1. Who can file a complaint with the Commission?
Any individual, including any litigant, lawyer, member of the public, judge, justice, court employee, or other person, who has information that a judge or justice may have committed sanctionable conduct or have a disability or impairment, can file a complaint against any Maryland Justices or Judges, including senior judges, sitting in the following courts:
Appellate Court of Maryland
Supreme Court of Maryland
In addition, the Commission’s Investigative Counsel ("Investigative Counsel"), upon receiving information from any source that indicates a judge or justice may have committed sanctionable conduct or may have a disability, may open a file and make an inquiry.
The Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities (“Commission”) does not have jurisdiction and therefore cannot accept complaints against Magistrates, examiners, attorneys, administrative hearing officers/judges, federal magistrates and judges, law enforcement officials and others not listed above.
The only complaints that can be addressed by the Commission are those involving a Maryland justice or judge’s alleged sanctionable conduct, disability or impairment.
2. What is “sanctionable conduct”?
Sanctionable conduct, as defined in Maryland Rule 18-402(m), means a judge’s:
- misconduct while in office,
- the persistent failure to perform the duties of a judge,
- conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice;
- any violation of the binding obligations of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct (Maryland Rules 18-100.1 to 18-104.6).
Sanctionable conduct does not include the following by a judge, unless the judge’s conduct also involves fraud or corrupt motive or raises a substantial question as to the judge’s fitness for office:
- making an erroneous finding of fact,
- reaching an incorrect legal conclusion,
- misapplying the law, or
- failure to decide matters in a timely fashion, unless such failure is habitual.
Examples of a judge’s behavior that may constitute sanctionable conduct:
- inappropriate or demeaning courtroom conduct, such as yelling, profanity, or racist, sexist or other discriminating comments;
- using the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge and others;
- hearing a case in which the judge has a personal or financial interest in the outcome;
- public comment regarding a pending case;
- persistent failure to dispose of court business promptly and responsibly;
- hearing a case in which the parties or attorneys are related to the judge within a prohibited degree of kinship;
- improper communication with only one of the parties or attorneys in a case;
- sleeping or drunkenness during a court proceeding;
- out of court behavior such as sexual harassment, bribery, theft, driving while intoxicated, making threats, making racist comments, ticket-fixing, or criminal behavior;
- endorsement of a specific political candidate or other improper political campaign activities.
3. What are “disability” and “impairment”?
Disability means a judge’s mental or physical disability that:
- seriously interferes with the performance of a judge’s duties and
- is, or is likely to become, permanent.
Impairment means a judge’s mental or physical condition, including an addiction, that has seriously interfered with the performance of a judge’s duties but may be remediable and, if remedied, is not likely to become permanent.
Examples of a judge’s physical or mental condition that may constitute a disability or impairment are:
- alcohol or drug abuse;
- physical illness;
- mental illness.
4. Can the Commission help me if I am unhappy with the outcome of my case?
No. The Commission does not have authority to handle appeals of a judge’s ruling or decision. If you want to challenge a judge’s ruling or decision, you will need to file an appeal with the correct court within the required time period. If you need advice or assistance as to what to do, contact a lawyer without delay.
The Commission’s authority is limited by law to investigating allegations of a judge’s sanctionable conduct, impairment, or disability, and, if appropriate, disciplining the judge with a Reprimand, Conditional Diversion Agreement (requires judge's consent), or referral to the Supreme Court of Maryland with a recommendation for a different sanction. The Commission has no authority to:
- tell a judge to change a ruling or decision;
- review a case as to a judge’s error, mistake, or exercise of discretion; or
- disqualify a judge from continuing to hear a case, or assign a new judge to a case.
The Commission and its staff do not give legal advice or respond to requests for assistance with individual matters outside of the Commission’s scope of authority.
5. How do I file a complaint against a judge with the Commission?
See Filing a Complaint for instructions.
6. What happens after I file my complaint against a judge with the Commission?
If the complaint meets the Commission’s requirements, the Investigative Counsel will open a file and send a letter to the Complainant acknowledging receipt of the complaint and the procedure for investigating and processing the complaint. If the allegations, liberally construed, fail to allege facts which, if true would constitute a disability, impairment, or sanctionable conduct, and therefore do not constitute a complaint, Investigative Counsel will notify the Complainant that the allegations were considered and not found to be a cognizable complaint. Investigative Counsel will docket each properly filed complaint, conduct an investigation, and thereafter report to the Judicial Inquiry Board ("Board") or the Commission on Judicial Disabilities (“Commission”) the results of the investigation, including one of the following recommendations:
- Dismiss the complaint, with or without a letter of cautionary advice (to the Commission);
- Reprimand (to the Board);
- Conditional diversion agreement (to the Board);
- Filing of Charges (to the Board); or
- Retirement of the judge based upon a finding of disability (to the Board).
Upon the Board’s receipt of the Investigative Counsel’s report and recommendation, the Board will prepare a report and recommendation to the Commission Members that includes one of the following recommendations:
- Dismiss the complaint, with or without a letter of cautionary advice;
- Conditional diversion agreement;
- Retirement of the judge; or
- upon a determination of probable cause that a judge has a disability or impairment or has committed sanctionable conduct, the filing of Charges.
The Commission, after reviewing the Investigative Counsel’s report and recommendation, the Board’s report and recommendation, and any objections filed by the judge to the Board’s report can take the following actions:
- Direct Investigative Counsel to conduct a further investigation;
- Remand the matter to the Board for further consideration;
- Dismiss the complaint, with or without a letter of cautionary advice;
- Enter a Reprimand;
- Enter a Conditional diversion agreement;
- Enter a disposition of Retirement;
- Enter a disposition to which the judge has filed a written consent; or
- Direct Investigative Counsel to file Charges.
If the Commission directs Investigative Counsel to file charges against the judge alleging that the judge committed sanctionable conduct or has a disability or impairment, the charges are served upon the judge and a public hearing is scheduled as to sanctionable conduct charges. This is a formal hearing conducted in accordance with the rules of evidence. The proceedings in disability and impairment cases are confidential.
If, after the hearing, the Commission finds by clear and convincing evidence that the judge has committed sanctionable conduct, or has a disability or impairment, the Commission will refer the case to the Supreme Court of Maryland with its recommendations and findings. The Supreme Court of Maryland can take any one of the following actions:
- Impose the sanction recommended by the Commission or any other disposition permitted by law;
- Dismiss the proceeding; or
- Remand for further proceedings as specified in the order of remand.
7. Are complaints and related information and proceedings of the Commission treated confidentially?
Yes. Generally, the following are kept confidential by the Commission and thereby not available to the public:
- all complaints filed with the Commission;
- all information obtained through the investigation of the complaints;
- Investigative Counsel’s work product and records not admitted into evidence before the Commission;
- the deliberations and records of such deliberations of the Judicial Inquiry Board and the Commission;
- all charges based solely on a judge’s alleged disability or impairment, and all proceedings before the Commission on them.
Exceptions to the above:
- the complaint is not kept confidential to the judge who is asked to respond to the complaint.
- after the judge files a response to Charges alleging sanctionable conduct, or after the expiration of the time for filing such a response, the Charges and all subsequent proceedings before the Commission on such Charges are open to the public.
- unless otherwise ordered by the Supreme Court of Maryland, the record of Commission proceedings filed with the Supreme Court of Maryland and any proceedings before the Court are open to the public.
- if the judge provides the Commission with a written waiver, the Commission may release confidential information.
8. How long does it take the Commission to investigate a complaint and will the Commission tell me what action it takes?
It may take a few months or many months for the investigation and final disposition of a complaint, depending upon the complexity of the matter and the number and complexity of other pending complaints.
Although the investigation is confidential, the Commission will notify the Complainant of the following actions: the complaint has been dismissed; the complaint was brought to the judge’s attention and no public action was taken; the Commission has entered into a Conditional diversion agreement; or the Commission has authorized the filing of charges against the judge, and made findings in referring the matter to the Supreme Court of Maryland with its recommendation.