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Complaints Against Judges

The Judicial Conduct Commission was established in 1975 to provide a method for receiving, investigating, evaluating, and acting, by recommendation to the Supreme Court, upon complaints alleging misconduct about a judge in North Dakota. The Code of Judicial Conduct is the primary guide for judicial conduct, and the Rules of the Judicial Conduct Commission provide the procedural framework for the handling and disposition of complaints. These rules can be found on this website.

The Commission has seven members: four non-lawyer members, two judges and a lawyer. The non-lawyer members are appointed from around the state by the Governor. The judges are appointed by the state judge's association; and the lawyer member is appointed by the State Bar Association. All members are unpaid volunteers.

How the process works in a nutshell:

When a written complaint alleging judicial misconduct is received, it is filed with the Commission's disciplinary counsel. Counsel acknowledges and reviews the complaint and, if appropriate, conducts further investigation. If the complaint, on its face, does not indicate misconduct, an investigation will not be conducted and the matter will be dismissed. If the Commission finds that the misconduct constitutes a minor violation, it will send a letter of admonition to which the judge must consent.

If there is the potential for a finding of substantial misconduct, a formal hearing is held before a hearing panel of Commission members, and witnesses, including the person filing the complaint, and the judge are heard. Once the formal hearing is completed, the panel will either dismiss the complaint, or make a recommendation to the Supreme Court for public censure, removal, suspension, retirement or other discipline of the judge.

By Supreme Court Administrative Rule, the Judiciary Standards Committee provides the vehicle for the coordinated, complementary, and continuing study and review of the range of issues concerning judicial conduct.

Steps to follow to file a complaint:

1. Put your complaint in writing. It should be signed, dated, and sent to the Judicial Conduct Commission, P.O. Box 2297, Bismarck, ND 58502-2297. You do not need a lawyer to represent you.

2. Include a description of the conduct about which you are complaining, the names of witnesses, and copies of documents and other materials to assist the Commission in understanding and acting promptly on your complaint.

3. If the information provided does not indicate misconduct, however, the complaint will be dismissed without further investigation or an opportunity to appear.

4. If there is an investigation, it and the decision on your complaint may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter and when the Commission, whose members are unpaid volunteers, is able to meet.

5. You will receive written notice of the outcome of your complaint.

When considering a complaint against a judge, you should know that a complaint will do nothing to change the outcome of a case or its appeal. A complaint is not a civil or malpractice action, so the complaining party will not "win" anything or be awarded any damages. Complaints are not substitutes for appeals of court decisions, and you must not wait for the Commission to take its action before you take your appeal or any other legal action.

Further information about the complaint process can be obtained from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, P.O. Box 2297, Bismarck, ND 58502-2297; 701-328-3925.