Alabama’s judicial-conduct system was established, in 1973, by the overwhelming support of the citizens of Alabama when, by a nearly two-to-one vote, Alabama adopted Amendment No. 328 to the Alabama Constitution (now §§ 139-162, Ala. Const. 1901 (Off. Recomp.). Alabama’s two-tier judicial-conduct system consists of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and the Court of the Judiciary. §§ 156 & 157, Ala. Const. 1901 (Off. Recomp.). The Judicial Inquiry Commission is convened permanently as an independent agency within the judicial branch of government with authority to:
- initiate or receive complaints filed by any aggrieved person concerning any alleged violation by a judge of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, misconduct in judicial office, failure to perform judicial duties, or inability to perform judicial duties because of a physical or mental disability;
- conduct confidential investigations of allegations asserted in complaints filed with it;
- file charges in the Court of the Judiciary upon the finding by a majority of the Judicial Inquiry Commission that a reasonable basis exists to charge an Alabama judge with a violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, misconduct in office, failure to perform judicial duties, or inability to perform judicial duties because of a physical or mental disability; and
- prosecute charges the Commission files in the Court of the Judiciary (which, by rule of the Court of the Judiciary, the Commission is required to prove by clear and convincing evidence) and defend any appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court from the decision of the Court of Judiciary.
Alabama’s judicial-conduct system—as in each of the 49 other states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories—is the primary means by which ethical standards for and other conduct of judges are regulated. These judicial-conduct systems were instituted to ensure the integrity, independence, and impartiality of judges and the judicial system by:
- enforcing standards of judicial conduct on and off the bench;
- assisting the judiciary in maintaining the necessary balance between independence and accountability;
- providing an accessible forum for citizens’ complaints against judges;
- creating a greater public awareness of what constitutes proper and improper judicial conduct; and
- protecting judges from false, unfounded, and inaccurate accusations.