So You Have a Complaint About a Judge?

April 15, 2016  |  bias, judge, judicial conduct, recuse

Like all people, judges are not always right. If he or she makes a mistake of law or fact in your case, your remedy is to appeal the decision. But sometimes you may believe that the judge has acted wrongfully, perhaps because you think the judge was biased against you or in favor of your opponent. Perhaps you think the judge should not have participated in the case because he or she used to represent your opponent. Perhaps you were verbally abused by the judge in the course of the case. There may be many reasons you feel aggrieved. But what can you do about it?

Well, first, get out of your mind the thought of suing the judge. No matter how nasty or prejudiced the judge may have been, he or she is immune if acting within his or her judicial role. So you are never going to get any financial compensation for being mistreated. However, there is a way to raise the issue and perhaps get some satisfaction.

The Kentucky Supreme Court has created the Judicial Conduct Commission, which has the power to discipline sitting judges for such things as misconduct in office, incompetence, or violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The powers and duties of the Commission, and the procedures for filing a complaint against a judge are set out in Supreme Court Rule 4.000 et seq. The Commission has a website that will provide information about the members and the process and you should review the website carefully before filing a complaint.

The Commission has a range of disciplines it may impose, from a private reprimand that the public never hears about, to removal of the judge from office, temporarily or permanently.

Filing such a complaint is not to be done lightly. Your mere belief you’ve been mistreated is not sufficient; you are going to be required to state facts and be specific as to why you have been mistreated. You may be required to testify, so don’t think you can complain and then not be involved. And remember, “mistreated” does not mean that you are simply unhappy about the result. As examples of misconduct stemming from violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, consider the following.

A judge is supposed to avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. So it may be legitimate for you to complain if the judge remarked about how your opponent is a pillar of the community and demonstrated on the record a bias in his or her favor. Or if the judge’s relative is your opponent and the judge insists he or she can be fair and refuses to get off the case, that may at the very least be an appearance of impropriety.

A judge is supposed to be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants. A stern lecture may not violate this requirement, but unwarranted sarcasm, demeaning statements, and personal attacks based on race, national origin, and such may do so.

It is impossible to set out all the ways a judge might violate his or her duties of fairness and courtesy, but these general concepts may help you distinguish an unfortunate result from judicial mistreatment. It would be well if you talked to your lawyer before filing a complaint against a judge, but you have a right to a hearing by a judge who is competent, courteous, and unbiased. And if you don’t get that, you have the right to try to do something about it.


Author: Arnold Taylor, Esq. - Arnold is Senior Partner of O'Hara, Ruberg, Taylor, Sloan & Sergent, having been a member of the firm since 1965.