Anyone may file a complaint with the Commission, including a member of the Commission or the Commission’s staff. The complainant does not need to be an Alabama resident, does not need to be a party to a proceeding before the judge, and does not need to be related in any way to the alleged misconduct. The complainant must only be able to attest that his or her statement of facts and allegations is “true and correct to the best of my knowledge, information and belief.”
Please contact the Commission’s office at (334) 242-4089, and a form can be sent to you in the mail.
No. The Commission’s rules require a “verified complaint.” This means that it must be signed and notarized. The Commission cannot accept complaints via email, facsimile, or over the phone.
No. The Commission cannot accept anonymous complaints.
No. You do not have to pay anything to file a complaint against a judge.
Do not use a single complaint form to complain about more than one judge or disclose any complaints you are making or have made about another judge. If you have complaints about more than one judge, use a separate form for each judge.
Because of the Commission's confidentiality requirements, and because judge's are served a copy of the complaint if an investigation is initiated, the complaint form should only mention the specific judge against whom you have a complaint.
A complaint must be submitted in writing, must specifically name a judge (and not simply name an entire court), and must contain enough specific facts for the Commission to evaluate the judge’s alleged misconduct or disability. Each complaint form can only name a single judge. Complaints against multiple judges require multiple complaint forms.
Yes. You are encouraged to include any documents that may support your allegations. However, if you do attach documents or items to the complaint, you should say how they are relevant to the allegations of unethical conduct in your complaint, and you should give the pages or sections that are relevant.
No. The Commission is required to retain all complaints and investigative materials that it receives. If you send something to the Commission, you will not get it back. If you need copies of anything, you must make them before sending materials to the Commission.
No. The Commission only has jurisdiction over actively serving state judges. This includes all Alabama appellate judges, Circuit judges, District judges, Probate judges, and municipal judges. This does not include federal judges, private judges, arbitrators, mediators, referees, masters, magistrates, court administrators, clerks, other judicial employees, attorneys (non-judges), administrative law judges, or retired inactive state judges. If you send in a complaint about any individual who falls outside of the Commission’s jurisdiction, then the Commission cannot consider the complaint.
Not necessarily. If a complaint is dismissed after the preliminary review without opening an investigation, the judge is never notified of the existence of that complaint.
However, if the Commission decides to further investigate the complaint, the Commission's rules require that it serve upon the judge a copy of the complaint and any material provided with the complaint.
No. “A judge is not automatically disqualified solely because a party in a case pending before the judge files a complaint against the judge; to hold otherwise would invite the filing of a complaint solely to obtain a judge’s disqualification and would invite judge shopping.” Dunlop Tire Corp. v. Allen, 725 So. 2d 960, 977 (Ala. 1998) (cleaned up).
As with any question of disqualification, a judge must make that determination based on the requirements of Canon 3C. Just as judges have a duty to disqualify when circumstances require under Canon 3C, they have a duty not to disqualify when circumstances do not require. Judges are elected by the people of Alabama and have a duty to their constituents to dispose of any matter properly before the court unless the law requires otherwise.
It is possible that the judge will need to disqualify, but it is also entirely possible that the judge will not need to disqualify. It will depend on the totality of the circumstances and the specific facts of the case.
Moreover, if a complaint is dismissed after the preliminary review without opening an investigation, the judge is never even notified of the existence of that complaint.
No. Filing a complaint with the Commission will not have any direct effect on your court case. The Commission does not have the authority to change a court ruling, decision, or order. Filing a complaint is not a substitute for appeal and has no effect on your legal or appellate rights. The Commission is not a court, and the Commission’s process cannot be a substitute for the appellate or writ process.
If you want or intend to appeal from a judge’s order, you must pursue your appellate rights through the judicial system. The appellate process is subject to strict deadlines, and you should immediately obtain legal advice about your appellate remedies. The Commission cannot provide legal advice. To obtain an attorney or legal aid referral, you may contact the Alabama State Bar Lawyer Referral Service at http://www.alabar.org or by calling (800) 392-5660.
No. The Commission and its staff are not allowed to give you legal advice about your case or an opinion about whether something is or is not misconduct. The Commission’s attorneys do not represent you in any pending judicial discipline matter.
No. All proceedings of the Commission are confidential except the filing of formal charges with the Court of the Judiciary. This means that the Commission cannot provide any information of any kind to anyone who contacts the Commission about pending or prior complaints or investigations. The Commission cannot even confirm or deny the existence of a complaint or investigation.
Just because a judge makes a mistake in his/her ruling does not automatically mean that the judge has engaged in judicial or ethical misconduct. Even if a judge’s decision is legally or factually wrong and the results cause problems for the parties, the ruling is generally considered to be “legal error,” not misconduct that the Commission can address.
The Commission’s jurisdiction is limited. It cannot reverse or overturn a judge’s rulings; intervene in a case; remove a judge from a case; order a judge to take certain action in a case; or award money damages or other relief.
The Commission does not generally review allegations of mere legal error. If you are unhappy with a judge’s ruling, you must pursue your appellate rights through the judicial system, which is the only way to get a judge’s decision changed. The appellate process is subject to strict deadlines, and you should immediately obtain legal advice about your appellate remedies. The Commission cannot provide legal advice.
Legal error or abuse of discretion can amount to ethical or judicial misconduct if there is evidence of intentionally or consistently ignoring the law, evidence of abuse of judicial power, or other evidence of bad faith. However, even if the Commission finds misconduct by the judge in that case, the Commission’s proceeding will only address the judge’s ethical misconduct; it will not affect the judge’s ruling.
You will receive a letter by mail acknowledging receipt of your complaint, which will be sent to the address provided on the complaint form.
Based on its preliminary review, the Commission must decide within 70 days of receiving a complaint whether to conduct further investigation. During that time, please do not contact the Commission for updates on your complaint. Because of the Commission’s strict confidentiality rules, information about a complaint cannot be given out over the phone or by email to anyone, including the complainant.
If the complaint is dismissed, you will receive a letter notifying you of the dismissal.
If the Commission decides within the 70 days to conduct further investigation, it must notify the judge within 14 days of its decision. Please note, if the Commission decides to open an investigation, a copy of your complaint and all supporting materials will be provided to the judge against whom the complaint is made.
If the Commission decides to investigate your complaint and it needs additional information, someone will get in touch with you based on the contact information you provided on the complaint form.
If the Commission decides to file formal charges in the Court of the Judiciary, those are public, and you will be notified.
The Commission will decide whether to dismiss your complaint or to conduct further investigation within 70 days, as required by its rules. If the Commission dismisses the complaint, you will receive a letter notifying you of the dismissal.
If the Commission conducts further investigation, the length of an investigation will depend on a variety of factors, including the complexity of the case, the severity of the allegations, the number of witnesses, the volume of documents, the difficulty obtaining evidence, etc.
If charges are filed in the Court of the Judiciary, its Rules of Procedure encourage prompt disposition of any proceedings.
You should file an addendum to your existing complaint or file a new complaint.
No. The Commission is required to maintain the confidentiality of all proceedings except the filing of formal charges with the Court of the Judiciary. But that does not extend to anyone else, including complainants. But please note, if you tell the judge presiding over your case that you have filed a complaint against him/her with the Commission, he/she will not be automatically disqualified from continuing to hear your case.
Because of the Commission’s strict confidentiality rules, information about a pending complaint cannot be given out over the phone or by email to anyone, including the complainant. While your complaint is pending, please do not contact the Commission for updates on your complaint.
If the complaint is dismissed, you will receive a letter notifying you of the dismissal. If other action is taken, you will also be notified.
The Commission will typically dismiss a complaint when it does not have jurisdiction over the person or the issue, when the complaint does not provide enough information to evaluate its merits, or when the complaint does not allege any unethical conduct by a judge.
The Commission cannot act on complaints consisting of conclusory allegations or opinions that do not present enough facts for the Commission to investigate. For instance, a complaint should include what happened during the incident; how it happened; who saw the incident and the judge’s conduct; on what date(s) the judge’s conduct happened; where it happened (i.e., in court or out of court); and, if possible, information about court transcripts, documents, pictures, audio recordings, video, or written statements from witnesses that support the allegations.
Also, it is important to remember that just because a judge ruled against you does not necessarily mean that the judge was unfairly biased or prejudiced against you. Allegations of bias must include specific information or examples beyond the mere fact that the judge ruled against you.
In most cases, if a judge makes a mistake in a ruling or decision, the “legal error” will not qualify as unethical conduct. The Commission has jurisdiction only to address a judge’s ethical misconduct. The Commission does not have the authority to change a court ruling, decision, or order. The Commission is not a court, and the Commission’s process cannot be a substitute for the appellate or writ process. If you want or intend to appeal from a judge’s order, you must pursue your appellate rights through the judicial system, and you should immediately obtain legal advice about your appellate remedies. The Commission cannot provide legal advice.