On Wednesday, January 31, 2024, Bloomberg Law reported that nine ethics complaints against federal judges were sent for review in fiscal year 2023, according to data published by the Administrative Office of the US Courts. The complaints were referred to special committees for review, indicating that they may have more merit than other complaints that were dismissed.
The data showed that more than 1,300 complaints were filed against judges in fiscal 2023, with the majority being dismissed as frivolous or related to an individual’s dissatisfaction with a ruling. However, nine complaints were deemed serious enough to be referred to special committees for review.
The complaints were spread across several circuits, with six filed against judges in the Eighth Circuit, two in the Ninth Circuit, and one in the Federal Circuit. Four of the complaints were initiated by chief circuit judges, including one in the Federal Circuit and three in the Ninth Circuit.
The report did not disclose the content of the complaints or the identities of the judges involved. However, the data showed that six of the complaints included allegations of “unwanted, abusive, or offensive sexual conduct,” a category that was first included in the judiciary’s fiscal 2020 report. Seven complaints accused judges of financial disclosure violations, and 14 included accusations that a judge accepted a bribe, gift, or favor.
The release of the annual report comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of federal judges, following press reports about Supreme Court justices accepting undisclosed gifts from donors. The lower courts have also seen several highly publicized ethics scandals, including the resignation of Texas bankruptcy judge David R. Jones last year after the Fifth Circuit issued a formal complaint related to his undisclosed romantic relationship with a top bankruptcy attorney.
Fix the Court, a transparency watchdog, expressed concern that the report did not provide enough information about the complaints. “It’s hard to glean a lot of information from the report directly,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court. “I understand the desire to not air dirty laundry. But in a judiciary with this much power, with this many employees, with a history of issues, especially in the harassment sphere, you’re going to want to identify and remove the bad apples, and not just have it shrouded in a very difficult to read spreadsheet.”
The report also showed that more than half of the complaints filed in fiscal 2023 were raised by litigants, while more than a third were submitted by prison inmates. Nineteen complaints were filed by attorneys, and three complaints were filed by judicial employees.
In conclusion, the report highlights the importance of maintaining ethical standards within the judiciary. While the majority of complaints were dismissed, the nine complaints referred to special committees for review indicate that there may be serious issues that need to be addressed. It is crucial that the judiciary takes these complaints seriously and takes appropriate action to ensure that judges are held to the highest ethical standards.
Source: Bloomberg Law