On Monday, June 19, 2023, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma adopted amendments to the Rules Governing Complaints on Judicial Misconduct, replacing the original rules established in 2006.
The purpose of these amendments is to uphold the integrity and public trust in the state’s judicial branch. The revised rules provide a standardized process for investigating and administering disciplinary actions for judicial misconduct cases that do not warrant removal from office or disqualification
Under the amended rules, individuals can file complaints against judges or judicial candidates they believe have engaged in misconduct. However, the complaint process is not intended to challenge a judge’s decision in a specific case or address errors in findings or conclusions, unless there is evidence of fraud, corrupt motive, or bad faith. The Council on Judicial Complaints is authorized to receive and investigate complaints, forwarding their findings to the Chief Justice for review and possible discipline.
The filing states:
“These rules provide a venue for any person to complain about a judge or judicial candidate who the person believes has engaged in misconduct as defined or set forth herein.
This judicial misconduct procedure is not intended to be exercised to challenge a judge’s decision in a particular case; or to be used in instances of erroneous findings of fact or conclusions of law in the absence of fraud, corrupt motive, or bad faith on the judge’s part, unless such findings or conclusions constitute such an abuse of discretion as to otherwise violate one of the rules of discipline described in the Code of Judicial Conduct. Appellate review and disqualification procedures exist and should be utilized to address concerns regarding findings of fact, conclusions of law, and disqualification issues.”
Disciplinary actions may include private reprimands, mandatory education, mentorship, suspension with or without pay, public reprimand, or censure. The Supreme Court retains the authority to refer cases to the trial division of the court on the judiciary for removal, disqualification from future judicial office, or compulsory retirement.
Confidentiality is strictly maintained throughout the complaint and investigation process, with any breach subject to potential contempt proceedings. The Supreme Court has the power to amend or modify these rules as necessary, as granted by Article VII of the Oklahoma Constitution.
The filing continues:
“It is not contemplated that every violation of a Rule will result in the referral of findings to the Chief Justice. If, after an investigation, the Council on Judicial Complaint finds evidence of misconduct or the appearance of misconduct that does not warrant referral of its findings to the Chief Justice, it may issue a letter of caution to the judge or judicial candidate and advise the complainant that the complaint has been dismissed with a warning or letter of caution to the judge or judicial candidate. The warning or letter of caution shall not constitute an adjudication.”
These amendments reflect the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s commitment to preserving the impartiality and accountability of the state’s judicial system, ensuring that judges uphold the highest standards of conduct in serving the public interest.