California’s judicial watchdog commission has a record of dismissing 90 percent of the public complaints it receives and is far more lenient than similar agencies in Arizona, Texas and New York, a nonprofit advocacy group said in a report Monday.
The state’s Commission on Judicial Performance is too lenient on judges and not open enough about its practices, according to a report by Court Reform, which was submitted to the state Legislature.
The group is headed by Joseph Sweeney, a mathematician in Berkeley, who began studying judicial discipline after his own run-ins with judges in family law court.
“Judicial misconduct is one of the most important, under-investigated and underreported issues affecting Californians,” the report states.
In 1960, California led other states in judicial accountability when it established the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP) through constitutional amendment. In subsequent years all 50 states would establish similar judicial oversight commissions.
But today, “though California’s commission received three times more complaints, it disciplined fewer judges than Arizona,” the report states, and Arizona is more open. The CJP does not disclose complaints, orders of dismissal or explain reasons for dismissal. It only discloses public admonishments and censures and its own interpretation of the facts. The CJP also has a system of private admonishment for judges.
While Texas has roughly the same number of complaints against judges as California, and New York has more, California conducts only a fraction of the investigations, Sweeney reported to the Assembly committee that oversees the CJP’s $4.3 million budget.
In the past 10 years, the CJP received roughly 1,082 complaints against judges annually. It took action to discipline 36 judges a year and on average six judges a year received public discipline, that is a total discipline rate of just over 3 percent.
By contrast, Arizona with 346 complaints per year, averages 47 disciplinary actions and 10.4 public disciplines per year, a rate of nearly 14 percent.
The rate of discipline in California has dropped by half since the 1980, despite an increase of 138 percent in the number of complaints between the mid-1980s and a comparable five years from 2010-2014, the report found.
“Judicial misconduct and accountability is a major problem across the country, and California is a severe, negative outlier,” the report concludes.