- Committee Function
- Committee Procedures
The Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability was established to assist the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in its responsibility to supervise Maine’s judges. The Committee provides this assistance by investigating complaints brought by individuals and by initiating its own investigations.
When it receives a complaint, the Committee makes an initial assessment based on the contents of the complaint and on any further information from the complainant or from court records. If the complaint does not allege conduct that could constitute a violation of the Code or is not supported by evidence, it may be dismissed.
If the complaint proceeds, the judge against whom the complaint is brought will receive a copy of the complaint and an opportunity to respond in writing. The Committee conducts further investigations as necessary.
At this stage, the Committee has the power to require any person to appear or produce evidence before the Committee or others and to provide evidence under oath.
If the Committee determines that the complaint is unfounded, the Committee will dismiss the matter and notify both the judge complained against and the complainant of its actions. Otherwise, the Committee is required to make findings and to report judicial misconduct or disability to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Committee may make recommendations for informal correction of conduct or practices that may give an appearance of being improper, and/or propose disciplinary action against the judge to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The judge and each person who filed a complaint will be notified of the Committee’s decision.
The Court makes the final determination with regard to the reported conduct.
The Committee cannot intervene in or change court proceedings or decisions in any way, and a complaint should not be filed with the Committee for that purpose. Parties to cases should use the processes outlined in the applicable court rules to seek reconsideration, appeal, or otherwise challenge a decision by a judge.
The Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability holds a regular meeting every two months. During its meetings, Committee members review new and pending complaints, and make decisions about whether a hearing or further investigation is needed.
After acknowledging and docketing a new complaint, the Committee must first determine whether the allegations in the complaint describe conduct that, if true, would constitute a violation of the Code. Sometimes more information is needed from the person or persons who filed the complaint or from court records.
If the committee dismisses a complaint without referring it to the judge, it will provide the complainant with a written explanation of the reasons for its actions. The complainant is always free to communicate with the Committee again to ask for further explanation or to provide further information. The committee will also notify the judge in this circumstance that a complaint against the judge has been received and dismissed and that the judge is entitled to receive a copy of your request.
If the Committee does not summarily dismiss the complaint, it will provide the judge with a copy of the complaint and ask the judge to respond to the complaint in writing. (In special circumstances, the confidentiality of the person or persons making the complaint may be preserved.) Once the judge has responded, the Committee may ask the Committee’s Executive Secretary, who is a lawyer, to conduct further investigation; it may make informal recommendations to the Chief Justice for changes in court rules or practice; it may hold an investigative hearing of its own; or it may do any combination of these.
The Committee holds hearings when requested by a majority of the members of the Committee or by the judge whose conduct is being investigated. At such a hearing, the judge under investigation is entitled to counsel, and the Committee may compel people to testify. All witnesses are sworn and a hearing record is created.
After investigation and hearing in a matter, the Committee decides whether it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- the judge has violated the Code and that the
violation is of such a serious nature as to warrant formal
disciplinary action or
- the judge has been convicted of a
crime the nature of which casts into doubt his or her continued
willingness to conform to the Code or
- the judge is suffering from a disability that materially affects his or her ability to perform his or her duties as a judge.
The Committee makes findings of fact and draws conclusions of law.
If the Committee decides that a violation of the Code has not been established, it will dismiss the matter and provide written notice of its decision to the judge and the complainant.
If the Committee decides that a violation of the Code has been established, it will file a report of its findings with the Supreme Judicial Court together with a statement of the alleged charges and the Committee’s findings and conclusions, a recommendation as to action by the Court, the transcript of any hearing, and any exhibits considered by the Committee.
The Committee notifies the judge and the complainant who filed the complaint by written notice when a decision to report the matter to the Court has been made.
In Maine, state court judges are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Legislature for seven-year terms.  Consequently, the Committee’s rules provide that the Committee will advise the Governor or the appropriate Legislative Committee of the nature and disposition of all complaints against a particular judge when that judge comes up for reappointment at the conclusion of his or her seven-year term (or appointment to the position of Active Retired Judge.) This information may then be used by the Governor or the Legislature in determining whether the judge should be appointed to an additional term.
In addition, upon request from a United States governmental agency or official authorized to consider and act upon the nomination or for appointment of persons to United States government positions, the Committee may provide information about complaints made against a judge and the disposition of those complaints.
- Probate judges are county officials who are elected by voters for four year terms. They do not go through a reappointment process.