Authority & Jurisdiction
The Commission’s jurisdiction extends to about 400 Arkansas judges, including the justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, circuit court judges, and full and part-time judges of the district courts, city courts, and police courts, as well as retired judges who serve as special judges. Also included are those officers of the judicial system performing judicial functions, such as referee, special master, court commissioner and magistrate, whether full-time or part-time.
The Commission has no authority to act as an appellate court. It cannot review, reverse or vacate a judge’s decision. Thus, the Commission does not investigate claims that a judge should have, for example, been more lenient or more severe in sentencing, admitted or excluded certain evidence, made a larger or smaller award of damages or child support, or believed a different witness. The Commission also lacks the authority to order a judge to step down from hearing a particular case.
The filing of a request for an investigation of the judge’s conduct does not by itself entitle a complainant to a different judge. Where appropriate, the Commission or its staff may refer inquiries to another agency or suggest that legal counsel be consulted about the possibility of appellate or other remedy.
The types of allegations that may be investigated by the Commission include ex parte (one-sided) communications on the merits of a pending case, clear conflicts of interest, rude or intimidating courtroom demeanor, serious neglect of duties, racist or sexist remarks, prohibited political or campaign conduct, bias or favoritism, gross abuse of political power, the receipt of gifts from those who appear before the court, and other misconduct both on and off the bench.
The standards of judicial behavior under which allegations are tested come primarily from the Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct. The grounds for discipline are those established in part (b) of Arkansas Constitution Amendment 66. And those established by ACT 637 OF 1989, (A.C.A. 16-10-410).
The statutory basis for removal of a judge includes willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or Professional Responsibility, willful or persistent failure to perform official duties, habitual intemperance due to alcohol or drug use that interferes with the proper performance of judicial duties, conviction of a felony, conviction of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the judge’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a judge in other respects, or the commission of conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.
In addition to misconduct, the Commission may investigate whether a judge has a mental or physical disability that prevents the proper performance of judicial duties. The Arkansas Code of Judicial Conduct, in effect on July 4, 1993, as amended through December 20, 2001, is at Appendix A.
The constitutional, statutory, and administrative rule provisions governing the current judicial disciplinary system in Arkansas are in appendices B, C, and D. Appendix E sets forth the guidelines for Commission members and staff as well as the operating policies.