The number of complaints filed against District of Columbia judges jumped for the second year in a row, from 54 complaints filed in fiscal year 2011 to 79 complaints filed during the last fiscal year, according to recent testimony before the D.C. Council.
Cathaee Hudgins, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, said she thought that the internet had made it easier for lawyers and the public to file complaints. During a hearing before the judiciary and public safety committee on February 14, she testified that the commission didn't find evidence of a rise in judicial misconduct; as was the case in 2011, almost all complaints were dismissed and no complaint led to disciplinary action.
The seven-member commission, which investigates complaints and evaluates judges in Superior Court and the Court of Appeals up for reappointment, did informally resolve two complaints in fiscal year 2012, which means that the commission discussed the complaint with the judge at issue. One complaint was informally resolved during the previous fiscal year. In the first four months of the 2013 fiscal year, the commission received 17 complaints. Details about judicial complaints are kept confidential.
Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who took over as the judiciary committee chair in December, also heard from the Judicial Nomination Commission during last week's performance oversight hearing. Congress manages the city's court system, but the city funds and oversees the two commissions responsible for appointing and reviewing judges.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who chairs the seven-member nominations commission, said the commission continued outreach efforts to attract more and diverse candidates for judicial vacancies. The number of applicants for three Superior Court vacancies during the 2012 fiscal year ranged from 16 to 20 lawyers per open seat.
"I never want to hear a lawyer tell me that he or she would have applied for a vacancy had a lawyer known about it," Sullivan said.
The number of judicial vacancies dropped from nine in fiscal year 2011 – six in Superior Court and three in the appeals court – to three open seats in Superior Court during the last fiscal year. The White House did nominate three lawyers for Superior Court vacancies, but those nominations expired at the end of 2012 and no action has been taken since.
Sullivan said that the commission is in the process of developing an online application for judicial vacancies, which he said should make it easier for lawyers to apply and for the commission to review applications. The commission has accepted application materials electronically since the 2008 fiscal year.
In 2013, Sullivan said the commission will begin the process of picking a chief judge for the D.C. Court of Appeals. Current Chief Judge Eric Washington's second four-year term leading the court expires in August; he would be eligible for redesignation, but other judges could apply as well. Superior Court Judge A. Franklin Burgess Jr., is expected to retire, according to Sullivan's testimony, so the commission is preparing to accept applicants for that vacancy.