Some inquiries that are commonly raised to the Commission staff are answered below. In addition, links with more detailed information on How to File a Grievance, the Complaint Process, Pending and Resolved Formal Proceedings, Legal Authority, and Michigan Supreme Court Decisions are on the left (using those links will redirect you back to the Home Page).
WHAT IS THE MICHIGAN JUDICIAL TENURE COMMISSION?
The Commission was created by state constitutional amendment in 1968. It has the authority to review written requests for investigation that allege judicial misconduct or disability. After a preliminary investigation of the facts and circumstances, the Commission can then determine whether a formal complaint should be filed against a judge. After a public hearing, before itself or an appointed Master, the Commission may recommend to the Supreme Court that a judge be censured, suspended with or without salary, retired or removed from office.
OVER WHICH JUDGES DOES THE COMMISSION HAVE AUTHORITY?
It has jurisdiction over all judges in the state court system, including: Justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the Court of Appeals, judges of the Circuit, District, Probate, and Municipal Courts, magistrates serving in those courts, and referees serving in Friend of the Court offices. It does not have authority over administrative law judges or federal judges, or court staff.
WHAT ARE POSSIBLE GROUNDS FOR ACTION AGAINST A JUDGE?
A judge is subject to censure, suspension with or without pay, retirement, or removal for conduct including, but not limited to:
a) Conviction of a felony;
b) Physical or mental disability that prevents the performance of judicial duties;
c) Misconduct in office;
d) Persistent failure to perform judicial duties;
e) Habitual intemperance (i.e., abuse of alcohol);
f) Conduct that is clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice; or
g) Conduct in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or the Rules of Professional Conduct, whether it occurred before or after the individual became a judge or was related to judicial office.
WHAT IS MISCONDUCT IN OFFICE?
Misconduct in office includes, but is not limited to:
a) Persistent incompetence in the performance of judicial duties;
b) Persistent neglect in the timely performance of judicial duties;
c) Persistent failure to treat persons fairly and courteously;
d) Treatment of a person unfairly or discourteously because of the person's race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic;
e) Misuse of judicial office for personal advantage or gain, or for the advantage or gain of another; or
f) Failure to cooperate with a reasonable request made by the Commission in its investigation of a judge.
DOES THE COMMISSION HAVE JURISDICTION OVER LEGAL DECISIONS, OR CAN IT BECOME INVOLVED IN OR COMMENT ON A LEGAL ACTION?
No. The Commission does not function as an appellate court, and it does not review judicial decisions or errors of law. The Commission cannot intervene in a court case, change a decision or order in a case, remove or change the judge assigned to a case, explain court procedures, provide an opinion about specific judicial actions or conduct (except in a decision and recommendation issued in the course of a formal disciplinary proceeding), or give legal advice. The Commission will attempt to refer individuals to other agencies where appropriate.
WILL THE COMMISSION STAFF ASSESS THE MERITS OF MY COMPLAINT BEFORE I FILE A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION?
No. The Commission staff is prohibited from making a preliminary analysis of allegations, as it is not permitted to conduct a review unless a written, notarized Request for Investigation is received; an investigation must be done before any assessment is made; and the Commission, not the staff, makes the determination on each matter. The staff will attempt to answer general questions regarding the Commission's procedures and jurisdiction. Further, once an investigation is open, confidentiality rules prohibit the staff from revealing any information regarding the matter (including updates to grievants) unless necessary to conduct the investigation. The staff is merely permitted to report, upon response to a specific inquiry from the grievant, that the investigation remains pending.
HOW AND WHEN SHOULD I FILE A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION?
Anyone may file a Request for Investigation with the Commission. The Request for Investigation must be in writing (access a form here). The allegations should provide facts about the disability or conduct believed to constitute misconduct. The Request for Investigation should include a copy of any relevant documents or transcripts, as the Commission staff cannot return materials submitted to it. The Commission encourages the filing of separate Requests for Investigation for complaints concerning more than one judge. However, it will accept a single Request for Investigation form concerning multiple judges if the allegations against the judges are interrelated.
The court rules require that each person filing the grievance (“the grievant”) have his or her signature verified (i.e., notarized) to establish that he or she has sworn to the truthfulness of the statements made in the grievance. Although including a second grievant is not required to submit a Request for Investigation, if two individuals are identified as submitting the document, each must sign the form with a separate notarization. The Request for Investigation form has an area for a second signature and notarization, which should be filled out only if a second person joins in the complaint. There is a maximum of two grievants per Request for Investigation form.
There is no statute of limitations (that is, time limitation) on filing a Request for Investigation. However, investigations are typically more effective when they take place soon after the underlying incident occurs. The Commission will also consider extended delays in bringing a matter to its attention, as well as any explanation for the delay.
Because of the requirements of an original signature and verification by a notary public, Requests for Investigation cannot be accepted electronically (that is, by e-mail or facsimile). Therefore, Requests for Investigation and any accompanying documents must be submitted to:
JUDICIAL TENURE COMMISSION
3034 WEST GRAND BOULEVARD
DETROIT, MI 48202
To have a Request for Investigation form mailed to you, contact the Commission at:
MAY I FILE A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION BY FAX OR E-MAIL?
No. The Michigan Court Rules require an original, notarized signature with a request for an investigation, so the Commission is prohibited from accepting complaints submitted electronically (including PDF versions of Requests for Investigation). Further, for security reasons, the Commission staff will not open attachments to unsolicited e-mail messages.
HOW DOES THE COMMISSION RESPOND TO A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION?
The Commission must determine initially whether a Request for Investigation appears to be valid and well-founded and alleges facts indicating misconduct or disability. This is accomplished through a "preliminary investigation" by the staff and a review by the Commission. Many Request for Investigations are dismissed by the Commission at this stage for lack of merit or jurisdiction over the respondent, or as the allegations raise legal determinations reserved for appellate review.
If the Request for Investigation appears to have substance, the judge under investigation receives notice of the allegations and is given a reasonable opportunity to comment on them. Thereafter, the Commission must consider the allegations, investigation, and the judge’s reply to assess the matter.
The Commission may dismiss the matter without a reprimand. It may also determine a violation occurred, but it is not serious enough to warrant filing a formal complaint. The matter can be dismissed by the Commission with an explanation, a caution, the satisfaction of specified conditions, or an admonition of a judge with respect to his or her conduct. The grievant is not notified that the judge was reprimanded under any of those resolutions. The Commission may also recommend a private censure by the Supreme Court. An order of private censure is also kept confidential from the grievant.
If the Commission determines more serious action is warranted, the filing of a "formal complaint" is authorized. The proceedings occurring after a formal complaint is filed are public, with the exception of deliberations by the Commission. If misconduct is established at a formal hearing, the Commission must submit its decision and a recommendation for discipline to the Supreme Court. Upon review of the entire record, the Supreme Court may accept, reject or modify the recommendation of the Commission.
A more thorough explanation of the Commission’s procedure can be found at the Complaint Process page.
ARE REQUESTS FOR INVESTIGATION TREATED CONFIDENTIALLY?
Yes. The Constitution and Court Rules safeguard the confidentiality of all requests for investigation and the results of the staff's investigation. However, in order to undertake an investigation, inquiries are often directed to attorneys, court employees, and others, which requires the disclosure of certain information regarding a grievance. The Commission may also authorize a request for the judge's comment, which is accompanied by a copy of the Request for Investigation. If the Commission does not request a judge's comment, a copy of the Request for Investigation is supplied to the judge at the resolution of the grievance. Therefore, the allegations and the identity of the complainant as reflected on the Request for Investigation are disclosed to the judge.
Prior to the filing of a formal complaint, neither Commissioners nor staff members may disclose the existence or contents of an investigation to third parties except as necessary to conduct that investigation. An exception may occur when, in the public interest, the Commission may issue a public statement confirming a pending investigation, a completed investigation resulting in insufficient evidence for filing a complaint, or with the consent of the respondent judge, that the investigation is complete and some specified disciplinary action has been taken. Discretionary waivers of confidentiality or privilege may also occur under limited conditions.
After a formal complaint is filed, the case becomes a matter of public record. Subsequent pleadings are public, and any formal hearing before the master, and the hearing under MCR 9.216 before the Commission, are conducted in open, public forums. Materials filed with and proceedings before the commission prior to the issuance of a formal complaint remain confidential unless offered into evidence at a formal hearing.
HOW CAN I COMMUNICATE WITH THE COMMISSION, INCLUDING SUPPLEMENTING MY REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION?
Inquiries should not be directed to individual Commissioners, as the Commission staff is responsible for addressing inquiries from the public. Please contact the Commission office by e-mail or telephone with general procedural questions (click on the "Contact Us" tab above for that information). Note that due to confidentiality requirements, the staff generally may not disclose any information to anyone regarding a specific investigation, except to advise a grievant that a matter remains pending before the Commission.
Supplemental information regarding a pending Request for Investigation should concern the same individual(s) identified in the original Request for Investigation, and will be accepted while a grievance is pending. Allegations against different judicial officers, even if they arise from the same underlying litigation, should be the subject of a new Request for Investigation. A grievant may wish to call in advance and advise the assigned staff attorney that supplemental material is forthcoming. It should be submitted to the Commission in writing, refer to the Request for Investigation number assigned to the file, and contain a statement that an investigation is currently pending before the Commission. Supplemental information will not be accepted via e-mail, and will not be utilized to re-open closed grievances.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RESOLVE A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION CLAIMING MISCONDUCT?
Disposition of a Request for Investigation can vary from a few weeks to several months, depending on its complexity, or longer in cases involving formal action.
WILL THE COMMISSION UPDATE ME ON THE STATUS OF THE GRIEVANCE, OR ADVISE ME ON ITS OUTCOME?
The Commission does not provide status reports due to the confidentiality requirement addressed above. It may only advise grievants that a matter remains pending in response to a specific inquiry from the grievant. The Commission provides a written notice to each grievant that the matter is resolved. Details regarding the resolution (with the exception of public formal complaints) are confidential, as required by the Michigan Court Rules.
WILL THE JUDGE FIND OUT THAT I FILED A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION, AND IF SO, IS A JUDICIAL RECUSAL OR DISQUALIFICATION MANDATED IF LITIGATION IS PENDING?
The judge named in a Request for Investigation learns of the grievance either through a request for comment authorized by the Commission, as addressed above at questions 9 and 10, or at the resolution of the grievance when a copy of the Request for Investigation is supplied to the respondent.
There is no requirement that a judge be recused or disqualified from a pending case, based solely on the fact that a Request for Investigation has been submitted or the judge learns of the investigation. (If that were the case, litigants dissatisfied with legal determinations may be compelled to file a Request for Investigation merely to obtain reassignment to another judge.) The Michigan Court Rules and Code of Judicial Conduct addressing judicial disqualification do apply, however, so that a judge who develops a bias based on the existence of a Commission investigation should act in accordance with applicable rules and canons.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE DISPOSITIONS OF A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION, AND HOW CAN A JUDGE BE REPRIMANDED OR SANCTIONED?
The Commission has several options. It may dismiss a grievance either with or without obtaining the judge's comment, impose a written reprimand (explanation, caution, or admonition) after obtaining the judge's comment, or authorize the filing of a formal complaint. Only the Michigan Supreme Court may impose sanctions, including censure, suspension with or without pay, or removal from office. The Supreme Court may also order a judge to pay costs, fees, and expenses incurred by the Commission in prosecuting a complaint, if the judge engaged in conduct involving fraud, deceit, or intentional misrepresentation, or if the judge made misleading statements in the course of the disciplinary proceeding.
WILL THE COMMISSION RETURN MATERIALS OR PHOTOCOPY DOCUMENTS I HAVE PROVIDED TO IT?
No. The Commission will not photocopy or return materials submitted to it, due to budget and staffing constraints, and the policy to retain files on all grievances it has initiated. It also cannot provide copies of materials obtained in its investigation, due to confidentiality requirements.
CAN I APPEAL A DECISION OF THE COMMISSION?
No. Commission decisions are final, and cannot be appealed. However, an independent Request for Investigation may be submitted based upon incidents that occurred after the Commission addressed the prior grievance.
SHOULD I DELAY PURSUING MY APPEAL IN COURT, OR TAKING OTHER LEGAL ACTION, UNTIL MY REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION IS DETERMINED?
No. You must proceed with whatever legal remedy is available to you within the court system to correct any judicial errors you believe were committed in your case. Your Request for Investigation is a matter totally separate from your litigation. As time limits or other restrictions may apply, the Commission advises that you promptly consult an attorney regarding appellate options.
HOW DO I RAISE A CONCERN REGARDING THE CONDUCT OF A STATE COURT EMPLOYEE WHO IS NOT A JUDGE, MAGISTRATE, OR REFEREE?
The Commission does not have jurisdiction to address those matters. Issues regarding the conduct of a court employee who is not a judge, magistrate, or referee should be raised with the court administrator or chief judge of the court involved.
HOW DO I FILE A COMPLAINT CONCERNING THE CONDUCT OF A FEDERAL JUDGE SITTING IN MICHIGAN, AN ATTORNEY PRACTICING IN MICHIGAN, OR AN ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE?
The Commission does not have jurisdiction to address those matters.
As to a federal judge sitting in Michigan, contact the:
503 Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse
100 E. Fifth Street
US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
(To view the rules regarding complaints based on judicial misconduct or disability on the Sixth Circuit web site, click on "Judicial Complaint" under the "CIRCUIT EXECUTIVE" heading on the left.)
As to an attorney practicing in Michigan, contact the:
Attorney Grievance Commission
535 Griswold, Suite 1700
Detroit, MI 48226
As to an administrative law judge, contact the respective department or agency in which the administrative law judge sits for further information regarding any available complaint process.