Pennsylvania elects all its judges in partisan political elections. Although PMC does not think this system is designed to get the most highly qualified judges, we believe that so long as Pennsylvania continues to elect its judges, it is our responsibility to inform the public about the elections and electoral process. Voters often are frustrated at how difficult it is to find relevant information and, indeed, to even know what to consider when voting in judicial elections. PMC aims to diminish that frustration
Merit selection would erode the influence of dark money in our judicial selection process, leading to a truly independent judiciary.
Judges are charged with the important tasks of interpreting law and making decisions which greatly affect citizens' lives. Consequently, they are held to high ethical standards outlined in the Code of Judicial Conduct.
hese rules "necessarily require judges, individually and collectively, to treat and honor the judicial office as a public trust, striving to preserve and enhance legitimacy and confidence in the legal system." It is PMC’s hope that Pennsylvania judges will always act fairly, impartially, and in accordance with the Code. Unfortunately, sometimes judges fall short of this ideal. In these instances, the Judicial Discipline System is responsible for investigating and adjudicating allegations of judicial misconduct.
The Judicial Conduct Board has the authority to investigate a judge of its own initiative, at the written request of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, or in response to a citizen’s complaint.
When a complaint is filed against a judge, the Judicial Conduct Board (hereafter “Board” or “JCB”) is responsible for determining if the complaint has merit. It is important to note that the JCB handles instances of judicial misconduct, not judicial error. For example, if you believe that a judge has made a mistaken ruling in your case, it is not appropriate to address the issue through the Board. Examples of judicial actions that might be subject to investigation by the JCB are as follows:
Failing to render decisions in a timely manner
Discriminating against a litigant due to race, gender, sexual orientation, or limited English proficiency
Accepting gifts, including tickets to sporting events, from a party or lawyer involved in pending litigation
Using vulgar or profane language in court
Improper use of court staff for electioneering
Presiding over cases in which the judge’s relationship with a lawyer or party could call the judge’s impartiality into question
The JCB will also investigate claims that a judge is physically or mentally incapable of performing her duties. Upon receipt of a complaint, the JCB will decide whether to dismiss it, or to fully investigate the allegations. If the complaint is dismissed, it cannot be appealed. If the JCB decides to investigate a complaint fully, it will interview witnesses, review documents, and give the accused judge the opportunity to respond to the charges. Following the investigation, the complaint will either be dismissed, or the Board will file formal charges against the judge with the Court of Judicial Discipline.
The Court of Judicial Discipline operates like a regular trial court and holds hearings on charges brought by the Board. The Board’s Chief Counsel acts as a “prosecutor” and presents in the case in support of the charges. All charges must be proved by “clear and supporting evidence.” The Court then decides if discipline is warranted, and, if so, what kind of discipline is appropriate. Some types of discipline the Court can impose include:
Suspension for a designated time period, with or without pay
Permanent removal from office
Once the Court of Judicial Discipline has reached a decision, the respondent judge can appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Judicial Conduct Board may not. Any decision the Supreme Court may render is final.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges