Pursuant to Article VI, § 156(c), of the Alabama Constitution, the Alabama Supreme Court has adopted rules governing the procedures of the Judicial Inquiry Commission. Some key provisions include the following: any complaint filed must be verified by the complainant (Rule 6A); upon opening a confidential investigation, the Commission must serve upon the judge the complaint and a notice setting forth the nature of the allegations being investigated (Rule 6C); every six weeks, the Commission must serve upon the judge any materials collected during the investigation (Rule 6D); the Commission must serve upon the judge any subpoena, which is issued by the Commission, prior to or simultaneously with service of the subpoena on the person or entity being subpoenaed (Rule 7C); and the confidentiality exception set out above (Rule 5A). In addition, Rule 18 gives the Commission discretion to render Advisory Opinions relating to judicial ethics to judges upon request. (To date, the Commission has issued 955 Advisory Opinions.)
Once it receives a complaint, the Commission will review each complaint at its duly-called meetings.
After a preliminary review, the Commission will either:
- Dismiss the complaint because it does not have jurisdiction over the matter or it is clear that the allegations do not warrant disciplinary action against the accused judge; or
- Authorize an investigation to determine if there is “clear and convincing evidence” of misconduct that warrants disciplinary action against the accused judge.
After an investigation has been conducted, the Commission will either:
- Dismiss the complaint because there is not “clear and convincing evidence” of judicial or ethical misconduct; or
- If the Commission believes that there is “clear and convincing evidence” of judicial or ethical misconduct, it may file formal charges against the accused judge with the Court of the Judiciary.
The Commission does not adjudicate complaints. The Commission cannot impose discipline on judges. When it proceeds with a preliminary investigation, it acts not as a prosecutor to prove a case, but as an impartial investigator, sensitive to the rights of the judge, the complainant, and the public. Every investigation affords the judge opportunities to respond to the allegations and to present argument and evidence, as the judge deems appropriate.
The Commission does not act as an appellate court. It cannot reverse, vacate, or otherwise modify any judicial decision. It does not review allegations of mere legal error or of abuse of judicial discretion, absent evidence of intentionally or consistently ignoring the law, evidence of abuse of judicial power, or other evidence of bad faith.
For the Rules of Procedure of the Judicial Inquiry Commission, click here.