Filing a Complaint on a Texas Judge

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is mandated by the Texas Constitution to investigate and prosecute allegations of misconduct by judges in Texas. The Commission has authority over Texas judges, including appellate, district, county, justice and municipal level judges, visiting judges, and associate judges. The Commission has no jurisdiction over federal officials, mediators, arbitrators, or administrative judicial officers. There is a complaint form which is used to open a file. The form may be obtained from and should be mailed to:

P.O. BOX 12265
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2265

Your complaint should state clearly what you believe the judge did that may be misconduct, together with sufficient facts to describe what occurred.

Do not simply state conclusions: that is, do not say "the judge was rude." Describe fully instead what the judge did that you perceived as rude. If you have court documents or other written evidence of judicial misconduct, you should submit copies of that evidence with your complaint. As the complainant, you may be contacted during the investigation for additional information. You could be called to testify in the event that the Commission files formal proceedings. The Commission may act on the basis of a news report or an anonymous complaint, although anonymous complaints are not encouraged. A telephone call is not sufficient grounds to open a file.

If you file a complaint about a judge, you will be notified in writing that the complaint has been received and appropriate investigation has begun, and you will be notified in writing of the disposition of the complaint. If a public admonition, warning, or reprimand is ordered by the Commission, you will receive a copy of that document also.

The Texas Constitution requires that all investigative activities of the Commission are confidential. This means that the Commission cannot confirm or deny that an investigation is underway or discuss the details of the investigation.

If, however, the Commission votes "formal proceedings" to remove a judge from office, then, when the hearing is convened, it is a public hearing.

The Commission is an 11-member board of citizens, judges, and attorneys appointed by the Governor, the Supreme Court, and the State Bar of Texas for staggered six-year terms. The members are required by law to be from different areas of the state. The Commission meets at least six times each year, handling more than 100 cases at each meeting. Each and every complaint is reviewed, analyzed, investigated as appropriate, and presented to the Commission for its consideration and vote.

The Commission meetings are not open to the public or to complainants.

Some complaints can be handled quickly; others are more complex. Average time to conclude a case is 6.2 months. Judges under investigation are prohibited by law from privately communicating with Commissioners.

The duties of the Commission do not include appellate review. That is, the Commission cannot change the decision of any court and cannot give legal advice. When a court makes an incorrect decision or misapplies the law, appeal may be the only remedy. Granting of custody or visitation, or setting child support are generally decisions within the discretion of the trial court.

Any fine or sentence imposed by a judge in a traffic or criminal matter, if it is within the parameters set by law for the offense charged, is not usually a matter for Commission consideration. Even if the Commission were to find that a judge had imposed a sentence not permitted by law, the Commission would not be able to set aside the sentence; it is the responsibility of the complaining party to pursue his legal remedies, whatever they may be, through the court system. The Commission does not have the authority to order anyone to be released from jail.

Misconduct would include, but is not limited to, the "improper or wrongful use of the power of his office by a judge acting intentionally, or with gross indifference to his conduct. It involves more than an error of judgment or a mere lack of diligence. Necessarily, the term would encompass conduct involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, corruption, misuse of office, or bad faith generally, whatever the motive." Examples of violations that might lead to disciplinary action would include intoxication on the bench, written endorsement of a specific political candidate; use of judicial title or office for personal gain; bribery; ethnic slurs, or profanity.

Each case is carefully and thoroughly reviewed and investigated as appropriate. The Commission considers and votes upon each matter on a case-by-case basis. Judges are held to a high standard of ethical conduct as prescribed by the laws of Texas, including the Canons of Judicial Conduct.

The Commission may vote to give a public or private admonition, warning, or reprimand. Also, a judge may be required to obtain additional legal or ethics education. In addition, the Commission has the power to suspend a judge, with or without pay, upon the judge's indictment by a grand jury for a felony or upon being charged with a misdemeanor involving official misconduct.

If the Commission determines that the allegations against a judge could warrant removal, or that a matter should be publicly litigated, it may vote "Formal Proceedings." In that even, the Supreme Court appoints a Special Master (usually a retired District Judge) and a full, open trial is held. The complainant is entitled to appear and give testimony. At the conclusion of the public trial, the Special Master reports "Findings of Fact" to the Commission. The members of the Commission may then dismiss, issue a public censure, or recommend that the judge be removed from office. If the Commission recommends removal, then the Supreme Court appoints a special seven-judge tribunal of appeals court judges randomly selected. If the Tribunal determines that removal (which may include a prohibition from ever sitting as a judge again) is appropriate, the judge may appear to the Supreme Court of Texas under the substantial evidence rule.

Last revised March 21, 1997