How to File a Complaint Against a Judge

In a courtroom, the judge has the difficult job of upholding the law and making unbiased decisions in every case. If a judge acts inappropriately while overseeing a case, individuals have the option of filing a complaint. Complaints are not something to be taken lightly and should be filed only when the judge has truly acted in a way that violates ethical standards. Filing false or frivolous complaints is not only inappropriate but can also get you into serious legal trouble.

Ethical responsibilities of judges:

  • Judges, like attorneys, are held to certain ethical standards mandated by State and Federal law.
  • In Ohio, judges are required to adhere to both the:
  • According to ethical rules, Judges must:
    • comply with federal and state laws
    • uphold the law impartially
    • perform judicial duties without bias, prejudice or harassment.
  • The following are examples of judicial ethical violations:
    • failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary
    • failing to dispose of judicial matters promptly, efficiently, and fairly
    • failing to diligently discharge administrative responsibilities without bias
    • engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
  • Federal judges are held to a similar standard as state judges. The Code of Conduct for United States Judges can be found here.

Filing a Complaint against an Ohio Judge

How to file the complaint:

  • Ohio’s Office of Disciplinary Council handles complaints against both attorneys and judges.
  • If you believe a judge has violated ethical standards you may choose to file a complaint with:
    • Office of Disciplinary Counsel
      250 Civic Center Drive, Ste 325
      Columbus, Ohio 43215-7411
      Phone: 614-461-0256
      Toll Free: 800-589-5256
    • Ohio State Bar Association
      1700 Lake Shore Drive
      P.O. Box 16562
      Columbus, Ohio 43216
      Phone: 614-487-2050
      Toll Free: 800-282-6556
    • An approved bar association
      List of local bar associations; You may also call the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline at (614) 387-9370 for addresses and phone numbers of approved local bar associations.
  • You do not need an attorney to make an ethical complaint, you can do so on your own.
  • Your complaint must be in writing.
    • The Office of Disciplinary Counsel has a grievance form available online.
  • Complaints cannot be made anonymously. The parties against whom you file a complaint are entitled to receive a copy of your grievance.
  • However, the investigation conducted by the Disciplinary Counsel is kept confidential from the public. As a complainant, you are asked to keep your complaint confidential as well. The complaint remains confidential until it has been certified by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline (explained further below).
  • It may also be helpful to review the Council’s FAQ page and a flowchart of the Disciplinary Process.

The complaint process:

  • Once you have filed your complaint, the Disciplinary Counsel will investigate and gather evidence.
  • If the Disciplinary Counsel finds evidence of an ethical violation, it will file a formal complaint against the judge with the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline.
  • The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline is an independent board appointed by the Supreme Court of Ohio to enforce ethical and professional standards for judges and attorneys.
  • After the Disciplinary Counsel files a formal complaint, a three-member panel of the Board of Commissioners will review the complaint.
  • If the Board finds enough evidence of wrongdoing, it will certify the complaint. At this point, the complaint will no longer be confidential and will be accessible to the public.
  • Once a complaint is certified, a different three-member panel of the Board will hold a public hearing. It is important to understand that you may be required to testify at this hearing.
  • After the hearing, the three-member panel will make a recommendation to the full Board. The full Board then makes its recommendation to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The final determination:

  • The Supreme Court of Ohio makes the final determination on whether the judge has violated Ohio’s ethical or professional rules.
  • If the Ohio Supreme Court determines the judge is in violation of either the professional or ethical rules, the Court will decide on disciplinary action. The discipline can range from a public reprimand, or limitation on the judge’s duties, to a full disbarment.
  • If there is not sufficient evidence of ethical misconduct, the compliant may be dismissed at any time during the investigation and hearing process.

 

Filing a Complaint against a Federal Judge

How to file the complaint:

  • The process for filing a complaint against a federal judge is slightly different than Ohio’s process.
  • Title 28, Section 351 of the United States Code pertains to complaints against judges.
  • You must file your complaint with the clerk of the court of appeals for the federal circuit in which the judge works.
  • Ohio is located in the Sixth Circuit. If you have a complaint against a federal judge in Ohio, you may send a written complaint to the Sixth Circuit Clerk of Courts at the following address:
    • Office of the Clerk
      United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
      540 Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse
      100 E. Fifth Street
      Cincinnati, Ohio 45202-3988
      Phone: (513) 564-7000
  • Your complaint must be in writing.
    • The Clerk of Courts for the 6th Circuit has a complaint form available online.
  • The complaint will be sent to both the chief judge of the circuit and the judge against whom the complaint was filed.
  • You can find more information on filing a complaint on the Sixth Circuit’s website.

The complaint process:

  • The chief judge of the circuit will review the complaint.
  • The chief judge has the power to dismiss the complaint or continue the investigation.
  • If the investigation continues then the chief judge will appoint a special committee of federal judges to investigate the allegations. The special committee will investigate the issue and file a report with the Judicial Council of the circuit.
  • During the investigation process you may be asked to give further information or to testify.

The final determination:

  • The Judicial Council of the circuit has the power to investigate the matter further, dismiss the complaint, or, if it is decided that the complaint should not be dismissed, the council may punish the federal judge.
  • The Judicial Council may also refer the issue to the Judicial Conference. The Judicial Conference has the power to do a further investigation and can impeach a federal judge.