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 Investigation and Complaint Process, Pending and Resolved Formal Proceedings, Legal Authority, and Michigan Supreme Court Decisions are on the left.
The Commission staff works to keep this website current, but some court rule and internal operating procedure revisions may not be incorporated into the FAQ responses.
At this time, the Commission staff continues to work both in the office and remotely. Responses to inquiries by phone, mail and email might be delayed. The questions and answers below provide information that is commonly sought from the Commission staff, so a review may be of assistance.
1. 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 public complaint should be filed against a judicial officer. After a public hearing before an appointed Master the Commission may recommend to the Supreme Court that a judicial officer be censured, suspended with or without salary, retired or removed from office. Only the Michigan Supreme Court can issue those sanctions regarding a judicial officer.
2. OVER WHICH JUDICIAL OFFICERS DOES THE COMMISSION HAVE AUTHORITY?
It has jurisdiction over all judicial officers 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.
3. WHAT ARE POSSIBLE GROUNDS FOR ACTION AGAINST A JUDICIAL OFFICER?
A judicial officer 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. WILL THE COMMISSION STAFF ASSESS THE MERITS OF MY ALLEGATIONS 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.
7. HOW AND WHEN SHOULD I FILE A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION FORM?
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 mailed 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:
8. 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. Requests for Investigation should be mailed to the address listed on the Request for Investigation form.
9. 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 public 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 "public complaint" is authorized. The proceedings occurring after a complaint is filed are public, with the exception of deliberations by the Commission. If misconduct is established at a public 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 Investigation and Complaint Process page of this website.
10. ARE REQUESTS FOR INVESTIGATION TREATED CONFIDENTIALLY?
Yes, with some exceptions. The Constitution and Michigan 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 judicial officer's comment, which is accompanied by a copy of the Request for Investigation. (On rare occasions an investigation may bypass a request for comment and the matter may be submitted to a judicial officer via a "28-day letter"; if that occurs a copy of the Request for Investigation is enclosed with that correspondence.) If the Commission does not otherwise send the Request for Investigation to a judicial officer during the course of an investigation, a copy is supplied 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 public 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 judicial officer, 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 complaint is filed the case becomes a matter of public record. Subsequent pleadings are public, and any hearing before the master and the hearing under MCR 9.241 before the Commission are conducted in open, public forums. Materials filed with and proceedings before the commission prior to the issuance of a complaint remain confidential unless offered into evidence at a public hearing.
11. HOW CAN I COMMUNICATE WITH THE COMMISSION STAFF, INCLUDING SUPPLEMENTING MY REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION?
Please contact the Commission staff by e-mail or telephone with general procedural questions (click on the "Contact Us" tab above for contact information). Note that due to confidentiality requirements, the staff generally may not disclose information to anyone (even the complaining grievant) regarding a specific investigation (and cannot confirm the existence of an investigation via e-mail). If an inquiry is made by telephone, upon verification of the identity of a grievant, the Commission staff may advise a grievant that a matter remains pending before the Commission (but the staff may not provide any additional information about the status of the investigation).
Inquiries should not be directed to individual Commissioners, as those communications are considered improper ex parte contact with the Commission. The Commission staff is responsible for addressing inquiries from the public.
Supplemental information regarding a pending Request for Investigation should be sent by regular mail only and should concern the same individual(s) identified in the original Request for Investigation. Supplemental material will be accepted if received at the Commission office by regular mail while a grievance is pending. 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, sent by regular mail, and refer to the Request for Investigation number assigned to the file. The supplement should also contain a statement that an investigation is currently pending before the Commission. Supplemental information will not be accepted via e-mail and generally will not be utilized to re-open closed grievances.
Allegations against judicial officers other than the person(s) named in the original Request for Investigation form, even if they arise from the same underlying litigation, should be the subject of a new Request for Investigation form.
12. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO RESOLVE A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION CLAIMING MISCONDUCT?
Disposition of a Request for Investigation can vary from weeks to months, or longer, depending on its complexity and the staff's workload and if the matter proceeds to a public complaint.
13. 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. The Commission will issue an acknowledgment letter (including a Request for Investigation number) after receiving signed and notarized allegations. While an investigation is pending, the staff 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.
14. WILL THE JUDGE FIND OUT THAT I FILED A REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION, AND WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN IF THEY DO (INCLUDING POSSIBLE DISQUALIFICATION AND RETALIATION)?
Existence of investigation- The Commission does not advise judicial officers that an investigation is pending upon receipt of a Request for Investigation form at the Commission office. However, the respondent judicial officer named in a Request for Investigation will generally be notified at some point of the existence of the investigation. If a request for comments is authorized by the Commission, as addressed above at questions 9 and 10, a copy of the Request for Investigation (containing the grievant's name) is supplied to the respondent. If a request for the judicial officer's comments is not issued, at the conclusion of the investigation the Commission will generally include a copy of the RFI with the letter advising the judicial officer of the existence and dismissal of the matter.
Possible disqualification- There is no requirement that a judicial officer 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 court rules and canons.
Retaliation- Retaliation by a judicial officer against a grievant for filing with the Commission would be misconduct. However, it is often difficult to prove. As an example, it would require establishing that a judicial officer's legal decision against a grievant's interests was based on retribution for the Commission filing as opposed to the merits of the underlying case.
15. 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 public complaint. Only the Michigan Supreme Court may impose sanctions, including censure, suspension with or without pay, or removal from office.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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 and filing a Request for Investigation with the Commission does not stop or delay the running of any applicable time period as to filing an appeal. As time limits or other restrictions may apply, the Commission advises that you promptly consult an attorney regarding appellate options.
19. 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.
20. 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
As to an attorney practicing in Michigan, contact the:
Attorney Grievance Commission
755 W. Big Beaver Rd.
Troy, Michigan 48084
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.