For decades prior to the creation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, judges in New York State were subject to professional discipline by a patchwork of courts and procedures. The system, which relied on judges to discipline fellow judges, was ineffective. In the 100 years prior to the creation of the Commission, only 23 judges were disciplined by the patchwork system of ad hoc judicial disciplinary bodies. For example, an ad hoc Court on the Judiciary was convened only six times prior to 1974. There was no staff or even an office to receive and investigate complaints against judges.
Temporary State Commission on Judicial Conduct
In 1974, the Legislature created the Temporary State Commission on Judicial Conduct with a full-time professional staff to investigate and prosecute cases. The temporary commission had authority to investigate allegations of misconduct against judges in the state unified court system, make confidential suggestions and recommendations in the nature of admonitions to judges when appropriate and, in more serious cases, recommend that formal disciplinary proceedings be commenced in the Court on the Judiciary or the Appellate Division. The temporary Commission was composed of two judges, five lawyers and two lay persons. It functioned through August 31, 1976, when it was succeeded by a permanent commission created by amendment to the State Constitution. The temporary Commission received 724 complaints, dismissed 441 upon initial review and commenced 283 investigations during its tenure. It admonished 19 judges and initiated formal disciplinary proceedings against eight judges, in either the Appellate Division or the Court on the Judiciary. One of these judges was removed from office and one was censured. The remaining six matters were pending when the temporary Commission was superseded by its successor Commission. Five judges resigned while under investigation.
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The 1976 State Commission on Judicial Conduct
The temporary Commission was succeeded on September 1, 1976, by the first permanent State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The 1976 Commission was established by a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by New York State voters and supplemented by legislative enactment of Article 2-A of the Judiciary Law. The 1976 Commission's tenure lasted through March 31, 1978, when it was replaced by the present Commission.
The 1976 Commission was empowered to investigate allegations of misconduct against judges, impose certain disciplinary sanctions and, when appropriate, initiate formal disciplinary proceedings in the Court on the Judiciary. The sanctions that could be imposed by the former Commission were private admonition, public censure, suspension without pay for up to six months, and retirement for physical or mental disability. Censure, suspension and retirement actions could not be imposed until the judge had been afforded an opportunity for a full adversary hearing. These Commission sanctions were also subject to a de novo hearing in the Court on the Judiciary at the request of the judge.
The 1976 Commission, like the temporary Commission, was composed of two judges, five lawyers and two lay persons, and its jurisdiction extended to all judges within the state unified court system. The 1976 Commission was authorized to continue all matters left pending by the temporary Commission.
The 1976 Commission considered 1,418 complaints, dismissed 629 upon initial review, authorized 789 investigations and continued 162 investigations left pending by the temporary Commission.
During its tenure, the 1976 Commission:
- publicly censured 15 judges;
- privately admonished 40 judges; and
- issued confidential letters of suggestion and recommendation to 17 judges.
The 1976 Commission also initiated formal disciplinary proceedings in the Court on the Judiciary against 45 judges and continued six proceedings left pending by the temporary Commission. Those proceedings resulted:
- 1 removal;
- 2 suspensions;
- 3 censures;
- 10 cases closed upon resignation of the judge;
- 2 cases closed upon expiration of the judge's term;
- 1 proceeding was closed without discipline and with instruction by the Court on the Judiciary that the matter be deemed confidential.
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The 1978 Constitutional Amendment
The present Commission was created by amendment to the State Constitution, effective April 1, 1978. The amendment created an 11-member Commission (superseding the nine-member former Commission), broadened the scope of the Commission's authority and streamlined the procedure for disciplining judges within the state unified court system. The Court on the Judiciary was abolished, pending completion of those cases which had already been commenced before it. All formal disciplinary hearings under the new amendment are conducted by the Commission.
Subsequently, the State Legislature amended Article 2-A of the Judiciary Law, the Commission's governing statute, to implement the new provisions of the constitutional amendment.
Continuation from 1978 to 1980 of Formal Proceedings Commenced by the Temporary and Former Commissions
Thirty-two formal disciplinary proceedings which had been initiated in the Court on the Judiciary by either the temporary or former Commission were pending when the 1976 Commission was superseded on April 1, 1978, and were continued without interruption by the present Commission.
The last of these proceedings was concluded in 1980, with the following results, reported in greater detail in the Commission's previous annual reports:
- 4 judges were removed from office;
- 1 judge was suspended without pay for six months;
- 2 judges were suspended without pay for four months;
- 21 judges were censured;
- 1 judge was directed to reform his conduct consistent with the Court's opinion;
- 1 judge was barred from holding future judicial office after he resigned; and
- 2 judges died before the matters were concluded.
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