Panel: Most complaints against Massachusetts judges come from aggrieved litigants
BOSTON >> The group tasked with investigating complaints of judicial misconduct in Massachusetts considered 78 complaints against judges last year and disposed of 60 of them with a finding of no misconduct, the Commission on Judicial Conduct disclosed in its annual report.
The commission received 267 allegations of a judge misbehaving on or off the bench in 2015 — down from 343 in 2014. Of those, 55 "met the standard of alleging facts that, if true, would constitute judicial misconduct," according to the commission. Those 55 reports joined 23 reports that were held over from 2014 to make up the 78 complaints considered last year.
Of the 55 credible complaints filed last year, 23 of them pertained to a judge on the Probate and Family Court, while another 17 related to the District Court system, according to the report. In 43 of the reports the complainant was a litigant, and no legislators filed complaints last year, according to the commission.
The three most common subject matters of complaints were "denial of full opportunity to be heard," disagreement with decisions and rulings," and "inappropriate demeanor," the report states.
"Many complaints are filed ... by parties who are disappointed with how their cases came out and believe the judge was not 'fair' or that his or her decision was wrong," commission Executive Director Howard Neff wrote in the report's introduction. "Hardly a judge in Massachusetts escapes such claims over the course of his or her career on the bench."
Of the 78 complaints considered by the commission last year, 60 were dismissed with a finding of no misconduct. But in six of those dismissals, the commission expressed its concern to the judge in question.
In five cases the judge in question agreed to be monitored by the commission and to meet regularly with a mentor judge during the period of monitoring. Some cases from 2015 are still pending.
One such complaint involved a judge who presided over a criminal case and "had failed to provide the representative for the commonwealth with a full opportunity to be heard, had failed to be faithful to the law, had failed to observe high standards of conduct, and had created an appearance that he was biased against the commonwealth," according to the report.
That judge, whom the commission does not identify in its report, entered an agreement with the commission whereby the judge was privately admonished for the misconduct and agreed to be monitored for a year.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct is a state agency that investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and, according to its website, "has the responsibility of preserving both judicial independence and public accountability" and "serves to maintain the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial system."
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