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NC5 Investigates: General Sessions Court

How to File a Complaint Against a Judge

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In Tennessee, judges are regulated by the Court of the Judiciary.

According to the Court's website, it is composed of 16 members (10 judges, three attorneys and three lay people) who, after investigation and hearings, may recommend removal, suspension, or other discipline of a judge. (The Court's rules can be found here.)

They enforce the Code of Judicial Conduct, established by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

If you believe that a judge has violated the code, you can file a complaint with the Court of the Judiciary.  Complaint forms are available here in Adobe Acrobat format. You may call or write:

Disciplinary Counsel
Court of the Judiciary
511 Union Street, Suite 600
Nashville, TN 37219-1768

By law, all complaints filed with the Court of the Judiciary are confidential and privileged during the preliminary investigation stage.

Here is more information from the Court's website:

What is judicial misconduct?

Judicial misconduct generally is "willful misconduct" that is in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.   The Code of Judicial Conduct proscribes various rules relating to how a judge should conduct himself or herself in the performance of the duties of office.   Also, any disability, physical or mental, of a judge that substantially interferes with his or her judicial duties may be considered.

What are some things that the Court of the Judiciary may not consider?

The Court of the Judiciary is not an appeals court.   It does not have the authority to change any rulings of a judge.   For example, the Court of the Judiciary may not change rulings relating to domestic relations or child custody matters, change a sentence in a criminal case, or consider whether trial witnesses were believable.   A complaint which generally alleges that the judge was unfair or biased is insufficient. A complaint must specifically set forth exactly what the judge did that you believe was unfair or biased.

What will the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary do with my complaint?

Disciplinary Counsel will review your complaint. Disciplinary Counsel must dismiss the complaint if it does not allege grounds for judicial misconduct, and you as well as the judge will be notified.   Upon your request, any dismissal is subject to review by a three-judge Investigative Panel of the Court of the Judiciary.   If it is not dismissed by Disciplinary Counsel, Disciplinary Counsel will send a copy of your complaint to the judge and ask the judge to respond.   A full investigation can only be authorized by an Investigative Panel of the Court of the Judiciary.   If this occurs, the judge will be required to respond in writing.   The possible actions at that point might include a dismissal, a private reprimand or censure, a public reprimand or censure, a deferred discipline agreement, referral to an appropriate agency, or the filing of formal charges.

If the Investigative Panel directs Disciplinary Counsel to file formal charges, the Hearing Panel will consist of all other members of the Court who were not on the Investigative Panel.   The Hearing Panel can hold a full hearing on the charges.   It is only when formal charges are filed that the matter becomes public.

What kinds of sanctions can be imposed?

If the Hearing Panel of the Court of the Judiciary finds that the charges have been established by clear and convincing evidence, it has the power to impose a wide variety of sanctions ranging from private reprimand all the way to recommending removal from office.

The judge may appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court.   The decision of the Supreme Court is final in all cases except those concerning removal from office.   Cases involving removal from office must be reviewed by the legislature.   Judges may only be removed upon 2/3 vote of both houses of the legislature.

Does the Court of the Judiciary have jurisdiction to review a judge's rulings?

No.   The Court of the Judiciary is not an appellate court.   It does not have authority to review, revise or correct the legal or factual validity of any judge's decision.   Those rulings may be appealed to a higher court and must be pursued through the legal process.

Can I get a judge off my case if I make a complaint against the judge?

No. An allegation of judicial misconduct is not a substitute for recusal procedures.   You should seek the advice of your attorney about the procedure for attempting to remove a judge from your case.

Can I delay my case or an appeal until my complaint for judicial misconduct is concluded?

No.   You must proceed with whatever remedy is available to you within the court system to correct any judicial errors you believe were committed in your case.   Usually you must appeal within 30 days of the date of the decision about which you complain. Your complaint of judicial misconduct is a matter totally separate and independent of your litigation.

How long does it take to resolve a complaint for judicial misconduct?

The Court of the Judiciary meets at the times and places it deems necessary.   Final disposition may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter.   You will receive written notice of the final disposition at the appropriate time.   The Tennessee Court of the Judiciary has no emergency powers and cannot, under any circumstances, interfere with pending or ongoing litigation.   However, the Court may immediately place a judge on suspension if the judge is charged with a felony.

Does the Court of the Judiciary give legal advice?

No.   The Court is not authorized to give legal advice to citizens or to represent clients.

Specifically, over what positions does the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary have jurisdiction?

All Tennessee judges, to include, but not limited to, appellate, trial, general sessions, probate, juvenile, municipal and any other judge sitting on or presiding over any court created by the general assembly or by the express or implied authority of the general assembly.   It also has jurisdiction over judicial candidates but does not have jurisdiction over federal judges.

Does the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary have jurisdiction over attorneys?

No.   The Court does not have jurisdiction over attorneys.   If you desire to file a complaint against an attorney, please address your complaint to:

Ms. Nancy Jones
Board of Professional Responsibility
1101 Kermit Drive
Nashville, Tennessee 37217

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