The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct receives and reviews written complaints of misconduct against judges of the state unified court system, which includes State, County, Municipal, Town and Village Courts. Upon review of a complaint, the Commission decides whether to investigate or dismiss it. A complaint that, if true, would not constitute judicial misconduct will not be investigated.
The types of complaints that may be investigated by the Commission include improper demeanor, conflicts of interest, intoxication, bias, prejudice, favoritism, corruption, prohibited business or political activity, serious financial and records mismanagement, assertion of the influence of judicial office for the private benefit of the judge or others, and other misconduct on or off the bench. Physical or mental disability may also be investigated.
The Commission does not act as an appellate court and does not review the merits of a judge’s rulings or alleged errors of law. The Commission does not have the authority, for example, to raise or reduce the amount of bail or change the sentence imposed upon a defendant. The Commission does not issue advisory opinions, give legal advice or represent litigants.
The Commission’s jurisdiction is limited to judges. Complaints against other court personnel or lawyers are not investigated. When appropriate, the Commission refers complaints to other agencies.
Investigation of a complaint may entail such measures as interviewing witnesses, analyzing documents and getting the judge’s response to the allegations. If a complaint is investigated and the allegations are not substantiated, the Commission will dismiss the complaint. If the allegations appear to have merit, the Commission may direct that formal charges be served against the judge and a formal hearing be held.
After a formal hearing, the Commission may dismiss the complaint or caution the judge privately about the matter. The Commission may also determine that the judge should be publicly admonished or censured, removed from office or, in a case of disability, retired. Determinations to admonish, censure, remove or retire a judge are subject to review by the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court.