Maryland Courts

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who can file a complaint with the Commission?

Any individual, including any litigant, lawyer, member of the public, judge, court employee, or other person, who has information that a judge may have committed sanctionable conduct or have a disability, can file a complaint only against any of the following Maryland Judges:

Orphans’ Court Judges
District Court Judges
Circuit Court Judges
Court of Special Appeals Judges
Court of Appeals Judges

In addition, the Commission’s Investigative Counsel, upon receiving information from any source that indicates a judge may have committed sanctionable conduct or may have a disability, may open a file and make an inquiry.

The Commission does not have jurisdiction and therefore cannot accept complaints against masters, examiners, attorneys, administrative hearing officers/judges, federal magistrates and judges, law enforcement officials and others not listed above.

The only types of complaints that can be addressed by the Commission are those involving a Maryland judge’s alleged sanctionable conduct or disability.

2. What is “sanctionable conduct”?

Sanctionable conduct means a judge’s:

  • “misconduct while in office,”

  • “persistent failure to perform the duties as a judge,”

  • “conduct prejudicial to the proper administration of justice,”

  • violation of the binding obligations of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct.

Sanctionable conduct does not include the following by a judge, unless the judge’s conduct also involves fraud or corrupt motive or raises a substantial question as to the judge’s fitness for office:

  • “making an erroneous finding of fact,”
     
  • “reaching an incorrect legal conclusion,”
     
  • “misapplying the law,” or
     
  • “failure to decide matters in a timely fashion, unless such failure is habitual.”

Examples of a judge’s behavior that may constitute sanctionable conduct:

  • inappropriate or demeaning courtroom conduct, such as yelling, profanity, or racist, sexist or other discriminating comments;

  • using the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge and others;

  • hearing a case in which the judge has a personal or financial interest in the outcome;

  • public comment regarding a pending case;

  • persistent failure to dispose of court business promptly and responsibly;

  • hearing a case in which the parties or attorneys are related to the judge within a prohibited degree of kinship;

  • improper communication with only one of the parties or attorneys in a case;

  • sleeping or drunkenness during a court proceeding;

  • out of court behavior such as sexual harassment, bribery, theft, driving while intoxicated, making threats, making racist comments, ticket-fixing, or criminal behavior;

  • endorsement of a specific political candidate or other improper political campaign activities.

3. What is “disability”?

Disability means a judge’s “mental or physical disability that:

  • seriously interferes with the performance of a judge’s duties and

  • is, or is likely to become permanent.”

Examples of a judge’s physical or mental disability that may constitute disability:

  • alcohol or drug abuse;
     
  • senility;
     
  • physical illness;
     
  • mental illness.

4. Can the Commission help me if I am unhappy with the outcome of my case?

No. The Commission does not have authority to handle appeals of a judge’s ruling or decision. If you want to challenge a judge’s ruling or decision, you will need to file an appeal with the correct court within the required time period. If you need advice or assistance as to what to do, contact a lawyer without delay.

The Commission’s authority is limited by law to investigating allegations of a judge’s sanctionable conduct or disability, and, if appropriate, disciplining the judge with a private reprimand (requires judge's consent), deferred discipline agreement (requires judge's consent), public reprimand (after charges and a hearing), or referral to the Maryland Court of Appeals with a recommendation for a different sanction. The Commission has no authority to:

  • tell a judge to change a ruling or decision;

  • review a case as to a judge’s error, mistake, or exercise of discretion; or

  • disqualify a judge from continuing to hear a case, or assign a new judge to a case.

The Commission and its staff do not give legal advice or respond to requests for assistance with individual matters outside the Commission’s scope of authority.

5. How do I file a complaint against a judge with the Commission?

See Filing a Complaint for instructions.

6. What happens after I file my complaint against a judge with the Commission?

If the complaint meets the Commission’s requirements, the Commission’s Investigative Counsel ("Investigative Counsel") will open a file and send a letter to the complainant acknowledging receipt of the complaint and the procedure for investigating and processing the complaint. Complaints may be dismissed, prior to a preliminary investigation, if the “complaint does not allege facts that, if true, would constitute a disability or sanctionable conduct and there are no reasonable grounds for a preliminary investigation.” If the complaint is not dismissed, or an inquiry is completed without a dismissal, the Investigative Counsel conducts an investigation and thereafter reports to the Commission’s Judicial Inquiry Board ("Board") the results of the investigation, including one of the following recommendations:

  • dismiss the complaint and terminate the investigation, with or without a warning to the judge against future sanctionable conduct;

  • enter into a private reprimand or a deferred discipline agreement with the judge;

  • authorize a further investigation; or

  • file charges against the judge.

Upon receipt of the Investigative Counsel’s report and recommendation, the Board prepares a report and recommendation to the Commission Members that includes one of the following recommendations:

  • dismiss the complaint and terminate the investigation, with or without a warning to the judge against future sanctionable conduct;

  • enter into a private reprimand or a deferred discipline agreement with the judge; or

  • upon a determination of probable cause, the filing of charges.

The Commission Members can take action, with or without proceeding on charges, after reviewing the Board’s report and recommendation and any objections filed by the judge. If the Commission Members direct their Investigative Counsel to file charges against the judge alleging that the judge committed sanctionable conduct or has a disability, the charges are served upon the judge and a public hearing is scheduled as to sanctionable conduct charges. This is a formal hearing conducted in accordance with the rules of evidence.

If after the hearing the Commission Members find by clear and convincing evidence that the judge has committed sanctionable conduct or has a disability, they can either issue a public reprimand for such sanctionable conduct or refer the case to the Court of Appeals with a recommendation as to the sanction to be imposed. The Court of Appeals can take any one of the following actions: “(1) impose the sanction recommended by the Commission or any other sanction permitted by law; (2) dismiss the proceeding; or (3) remand for further proceedings as specified in the order of remand.”

7. Are complaints and related information and proceedings of the Commission treated confidentially?

Yes. Generally, the following are kept confidential by the Commission and thereby not available to the public:

  • all complaints filed with the Commission;

  • all information obtained through the investigation of the complaints;

  • Investigative Counsel’s work product and records not admitted into evidence before the Commission;

  • the deliberations and records of such deliberations of the Judicial Inquiry Board and the Commission Members;

  • all charges based solely on a judge’s alleged disability, and all proceedings before the Commission on them.

Exceptions to the above:

  • the complaint is not kept confidential as to the judge who is asked to respond to the complaint.

  • after the judge files a response to charges alleging sanctionable conduct, or after the expiration of the time for filing such a response, the charges and all subsequent proceedings before the Commission on such charges are open to the public.

  • unless otherwise ordered by the Court of Appeals, the record of Commission proceedings filed with the Court of Appeals and any proceedings before the Court are open to the public.

  • if the judge provides the Commission with a written waiver, the Commission may release confidential information.



8. How long does it take the Commission to investigate a complaint and will the Commission tell me what action it takes?

It may take a few months or many months for the investigation and final disposition of a complaint, depending upon the complexity of the matter and the number and complexity of other pending complaints. Although the investigation is confidential, the Commission will notify the complainant of the following actions: the complaint has been dismissed; the Commission has issued a private reprimand to the judge; the Commission has entered into a deferred discipline agreement; or the Commission has authorized the filing of charges against the judge and made findings and issued a public reprimand or referred the matter to the Maryland Court of Appeals with its recommendation. In addition, the Commission has the option of notifying the complainant of the fact that a warning was given to the judge at the time the complaint was dismissed.