Commission on Judicial Performance,
The current Commission on Judicial Performance does not provide meaningful oversight of California's $3.8 billion court system.
See our latest Report on the Commission on Judicial Performance:
The Commission on Judicial Performance is responsible for investigating complaints about California's more than 2,000 judicial officers. The Commission's role is extremely important because it is the only recourse a citizen has against judicial misconduct. The Commission's current structure, budget, procedures, and standards for investigating and censuring misconduct are alarmingly deficient:
- The commission consists of 11 unpaid political appointees who have full-time employment and obligations elsewhere and have little incentive to investigate or discipline misconduct. The members meet only once every two months to quickly dispose of around 200 complaints per meeting in closed-door meetings. There are no standard criteria or procedures for determining if a matter will be investigated, and if so, to what extent the investigation should proceed.
- The 11 members are judges, attorneys, and citizens who run in the same political and judicial circles as the judges they are responsible for investigating, creating conflicts of interest. The commission shares a building with the Judicial Council, a Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, and other judicial offices, creating further conflicts of interest.
- The annual budget for the Commission's support staff, facilities, and operating costs is $4.3 million. Only $1.8 million is spent on investigations. Spending so little to maintain the integrity of California's $3.8 billion court system is grossly insufficient.
- The standards for censure and removal of judges are too low. The commission issues 5 levels of discipline, two of which are not made public. A store clerk would not be allowed to conduct themselves in the same manner as some judges do without having their employment immediately terminated. 25,000 complaints have been filed over the past 20 years. The commission has only removed 10 judges from the bench. This is 0.04%. In 2014, 1,174 complaints were processed. Five resulted in public discipline. This is 0.42%. The remaining 1,169 complaints were kept confidential under the commission's self-imposed rules. The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly discloses all complaints.
- The complaint review process is secret and confidential. Under the commission's self-imposed rules, complaints, investigations, and disciplinary actions are confidential unless made public by the commission. Because less than 1% of complaints result in public discipline, the public has no idea as to what 99% of the 25, 000 complaints filed over the past 20 years pertained. Secrecy in such matters is contrary to the public interest.
In short, the integrity of California's $3.8 billion taxpayer funded court system is dependent upon 11 unpaid political appointees who have conflicts of interest, no incentive to investigate or discipline misconduct, and meet only once every two months to dispose of hundreds of complaints. Government integrity depends on checks and balances. Because of its structure, budget, procedures, and inherent conflicts of interest, the Commission on Judicial Performance does not provide meaningful oversight of California's judicial branch.
The solution is simple and inexpensive.
- Publicly catalogue all complaints against judicial officers and their dispositions.
- Reduce the five levels of discipline to three: public admonishment, public censure with reduction of salary and/or department transfer, and removal from the bench. Eliminate private advisory letters and private admonishment.
- Raise the budget of the Commission on Judicial Performance from $4 million to $12 million. If $3.5 billion can be allocated for California's courts, then $12 million can be allocated to preserve their integrity.
- Replace the 11 unpaid commission members, who meet once every two months, with full-time, paid employees and additional staff dedicated to investigating complaints and disciplining misconduct.
- Move the Commission on Judicial Performance to an independent location so it does not share a building with the Judicial Council, Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, and other judicial offices.