Ethics Question of the Month April 2022

A Peek Inside the State Commission on Judicial Conduct

The Question

How much do you know about the State Commission on Judicial Conduct?

The Situation

The commission recently posted its 2021 Annual Report on its website, which contains extensive information about the commission’s work during fiscal year 2021. The answers to the following questions can be found in that report.​

1. Where can you find the law governing the commission?

A. The Texas Constitution
B. The Texas Government Code
C. The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct
D. All of the above

2. What is the makeup of the 13-member commission?

A. Seven judges, three attorneys, and three public members
B. Seven judges, four attorneys, and two public members
C. Six judges, five attorneys, and two public members
D. Six judges, two attorneys, and five public members

3. What judges are subject to the commission?

A. All state and federal judges in Texas
B. All state court judges in Texas
C. All state court judges except for the justices of the Texas Supreme Court
D. All sitting state court judges except retired and former judges who sit by assignment

4. How many judges in the state of Texas are subject to the commission?

A. 3,744
B. 3,981
C. 4,116
D. 4,237

5. True or false? Complaints against a judge can be made anonymously.

6. True or false? By law, the identity of a known complainant must be kept confidential if the complainant requests it.

7. Commission records may be subject to public inspection under:

A. The Texas Public Information Act (formerly the Texas Open Records Act)
B. The Freedom of Information Act
C. Both
D. Neither

8. Which of the following constitutes judicial misconduct in Texas?

A. Willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Texas Supreme Court
B. Incompetence in performing the duties of the office
C. Willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct
D. Willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of the judge’s duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice
E. All of the above
F. B and C only

9. Which of the following remedies may be imposed by the commission for judicial misconduct?

A. Removal of a judge from the bench
B. Removal of a judge from a specific case in which the misconduct occurred
C. Sanctioning of a judge
D. All of the above

10. True or false? The commission may initiate an investigation based on media reports or information obtained via the internet.

11. How many complaints were filed against judges in fiscal year 2021?

A. 1,267
B. 1,455
C. 1,724
D. 1,905

12. What percentage of those complaints resulted in disciplinary action?

A. 6%
B. 9%
C. 14%
D. 18%

13. What percentage of complaints are administratively dismissed for failure to allege any prohibited misconduct?

A. 21%
B. 45%
C. 59%
D. 71

14. If you combine administratively dismissed complaints with complaints that are dismissed after an investigation, what percentage of complaints are ultimately dismissed?

A. 55%
B. 69%
C. 81%
D. 91%

The Question

How did you do?

The Correct Answer is A Of 8 Responses, 100% are correct.

  1. A 8

The Explanation

Answer Key

All quoted material below is taken directly from the Commission’s Report. 

Correct responses:

1(D)

“The Commission is governed by Article V, Section 1-a, of the Texas Constitution, Chapter 33 of the Texas Government Code, the Texas Procedural Rules for the Removal or Retirement of Judges, and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.”

2(D)

“There are thirteen members of the Commission, each of whom serves a staggered six-year term, as follows:

  • Six judges, one from each of the following courts: appellate, district, county court at law, constitutional county, justice of the peace and municipal, appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas;
  • Five citizen members who are neither attorneys nor judges, appointed by the Governor; and
  • Two attorneys who are not judges, appointed by the State Bar of Texas.

By law, the appellate, district, constitutional and statutory county judges and the two attorney members who serve on the Commission must be appointed from different appellate districts in Texas. Meanwhile, the justice of the peace, municipal court judge and public members are at-large appointments. The Texas Senate confirms all appointees.”

3(B)

“The Commission’s jurisdiction includes all sitting Texas judges, including municipal judges, justices of the peace, criminal magistrates, county judges, county court at law judges, statutory probate judges, district judges, appellate judges, masters, associate judges, referees, retired and former judges who sit by assignment, and judges pro tempore. The Commission has no jurisdiction over federal judges or magistrates, administrative hearing officers for state agencies or the State Office of Administrative Hearings, or private mediators or arbitrators.”

4(C)

“According to Office of Court Administration records, approximately 4,116 judges were under the jurisdiction of the Commission in fiscal year 2021, (less than a 1% decrease from fiscal year 2020 – 4,151.)”

5(true)

See answer to question 6 below. 

6(false)

“Complaints may be made anonymously, or a complainant may request confidentiality; however, anonymous complaints and requests for confidentiality may restrict the Commission’s ability to fully investigate the allegations. Furthermore, while the Commission strives to maintain confidentiality to those complainants who request it, the Commission may, in its discretion, reveal the identity of a confidential complainant when doing so serves the Commission’s interest in protecting the public by addressing misconduct.” (emphasis added). 

7(D)

“The availability of information and records maintained by the Commission is governed by Rule 12 of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, the Texas Constitution and the Texas Government Code. Commission records are not subject to public disclosure pursuant to the Public Information Act (formerly the Open Records Act) or the Freedom of Information Act.”

8(E)

“Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution defines judicial misconduct as the ‘willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas, incompetence in performing the duties of the office, willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of [the judge’s] duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice.’ Accordingly, a judge’s violation of the Texas Constitution, the Texas Penal Code, the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, or rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas may constitute judicial misconduct. Specific examples of judicial misconduct can include:

  • failure to cooperate with the Commission’s investigation
  • inappropriate or demeaning courtroom conduct, including yelling, use of profanity, demonstrated gender bias or the use of racial slurs
  • improper ex parte communications with only one side in a case
  • a public comment regarding a pending case
  • presiding over a case in which the judge has an interest in the outcome, or in which any of the parties, attorneys or appointees are related to the judge within a prohibited degree of kinship
  • out of court activities, including criminal conduct, engaging in improper financial or business dealings, improper fundraising activities, sexual harassment or official oppression.”

9(C)

“The Commission does not have the power or authority of a court in this state, cannot change the decision or ruling of any court, nor can the Commission intervene in any pending case or proceeding. The Commission is also unable to remove a judge from a case. If the Commission determines that a judge has committed misconduct in an ongoing case, the Commission may only issue a sanction against the judge, or institute proceedings that would authorize the eventual removal of the judge from the bench. Nonetheless, it is the strong preference of the Commission not to make any finding that would impact or alter the outcome of an ongoing case.”

10(true)

“The Commission considers allegations from any source, including an individual, a news article, or information obtained during an investigation. There is no requirement that a person who files a complaint be the target or victim of the alleged misconduct, nor does the Commission require a complainant to have firsthand knowledge of the alleged misconduct.”

11(C)

All of the data cited in questions 11-14 are taken from Table 1 of the Commission’s Report. 

12(A)

There were 96 cases in which disciplinary action was taken in fiscal year 2021, compared to 1,724 cases filed during that period, which rounds out to 6%. 

13(C)

In fiscal year 2021, 1,022 of the 1,724 total cases were administratively dismissed, which rounds out to 59%. 

14(D)

A total of 1,573 of the 1,724 total cases were ultimately dismissed, which rounds out to 91%. 

To view the commission’s 41-page annual report, go to www.scjc.texas.gov/about/annual-reports.

Bluebook Citation

A Peek Inside the State Commission on Judicial Conduct: Ethics Question of the Month - April 2022, Texas Center for Legal Ethics (2022), from https://legalethicstexas.com/ethics-question-of-the-month/ethics-question-of-the-month-april-2022/ (last visited Feb 07, 2023)