About the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission
The Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission was created by the Constitution of Virginia to investigate charges of judicial misconduct or serious mental or physical disability. The Commission has seven members consisting of three judges, two lawyers, and two citizens who are not lawyers. The members are elected by the Virginia General Assembly for four-year terms.
The Commission employs a staff to assist in the investigation of complaints of misconduct against all state court judges, members of the State Corporation Commission, and members of the Virginia Workers' Compensation Commission.
A complaint may be filed by anyone.
The Commission investigates complaints of judicial misconduct or serious mental or physical disability that interfere with a judge's duties. Misconduct includes, but is not limited to:
- allowing family, social or other relationships to influence judgment
- failing to maintain proper courtroom decorum
- failing to be patient, dignified and courteous
- failing to promptly dispose of court business
- engaging in private conversations which may influence judicial actions
- commenting publicly concerning a pending matter
- failing to disqualify in a proceeding in which impartiality reasonably might be questioned
- accepting gifts or favors from litigants or lawyers
- engaging in the practice of law (unless a retired or substitute judge)
- engaging in political activity
Mental or physical disability may include alcohol or drug abuse, senility, or serious physical or mental illness.
The Commission investigates complaints against judges only, not lawyers, magistrates, or court personnel. The Commission does not investigate matters of judicial discretion, such as the rulings and decisions of the judge. The Commission does not investigate complaints related to pending cases, unless there is a complaint of undue delay. Other complaints will be investigated only when the case is concluded.
The Commission cannot change any judicial decision or finding. Reversal of a judicial decision generally can be accomplished only by an appeal to a higher court.
All complaints must be in writing, addressed to the Commission, and signed by the complainant. The writer should include the name of the judge, a detailed description of the alleged misconduct or disability, the names of any witnesses, and the writer's address and telephone number. The Commission does not accept fax or email complaints.
Upon the receipt of a written complaint, the matter will be reviewed by the Commission staff. If the complaint alleges conduct that the Commission is authorized to consider, an investigation will commence. During the investigation, the complainant may be interviewed by a member of the Commission staff. Ordinarily, the judge is not notified of complaints filed with the Commission unless the Commission determines that an ethics violation may have occurred. The identity of the person making the complaint is not disclosed to the judge absent the complainant's consent or waiver. It may be necessary, however, for a complainant to testify as a witness in the event of a hearing. When the matter has been concluded by the Commission, the complainant will be contacted by a member of the Commission staff.
All Commission matters are confidential unless the Commission files a formal complaint against the judge in the Supreme Court of Virginia or, pursuant to statute, reports information to the General Assembly when the judge is being considered for re-election.
The Commission may consider a complaint informally or it may conduct a formal hearing. If the Commission determines there has been no ethics violation, the complaint will be dismissed. If it is determined that there may have been an ethics violation, the Commission may handle the matter informally by some form of counseling with the judge. If the Commission issues a formal charge against the judge, it may conduct a hearing and, if it finds the charge to be well-founded, may reprimand the judge privately, or place the judge on a period of supervision subject to terms and conditions. Charges that the Commission deems sufficiently serious to require the retirement, public censure or removal of the judge are filed by the Commission in the Supreme Court of Virginia. The Court may dismiss the complaint or it may retire, censure or remove the judge.