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Complaints About Judges

April 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

We talk about lawyers a lot on this blog, including how to complain about your lawyer. What if you have a beef with the judge? That may seem like a stretch; sure, you can complain about the lawyer you hired, but you didn’t hire the judge. Even so, if a judge takes an action that could be considered to be unethical, misconduct, or evidence of mental or physical incapacity, there are ways to complain.

The American Bar Association (“ABA”) has adopted a Model Code of Judicial Conduct that establishes general rules for judges to follow. In a nutshell, the judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety, be impartial, and avoid conflicts of interest. The Model Code does not provide for its own enforcement; for that purpose, the ABA  has adopted Model Rules for Judicial Disciplinary Enforcement, which include the establishment of a Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Commission is empowered to receive complaints, but the mechanism for making a complaint is not addressed.

ABA Model Codes and Rules are guidelines intended to help individual states craft their own versions, and most states have adopted them at least in part. Some states have gone farther; New York’s Rules of Judicial Conduct are much more detailed than the ABA’s Model Code, although they address the same general issues. In New York, as in most states, codes and rules of judicial conduct are part of the state’s general court rules. The ABA provides a comparison of its Model Code of Judicial Conduct to each state’s version.

Since the Model Rules have no complaint mechanism, the individual states all implement their own process for making a complaint. For example, New York’s procedure permits complaints to be filed with an Administrative Judge, the Inspector General, or the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. As in most states, New York’s Commission’s operating rules are not part of the general court rules, because they apply only to the procedures of the Commission and not to judges in general.

Both New York’s Commission on Judicial Conduct and  Washington State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct provide a complaint form but also accept complaints in the form of a brief written statement. Both also provide information about the confidentiality rules that apply to complaints. Similarly, Arkansas’ Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission provides a print and online complaint form, instructions, and information pamphlet and a report of its activities.

Of interest in the 2011 Arkansas report (the most recent published) are the sheer number of complaints: 248. Of those complaints, 178 were filed by litigants, only 11 by court personnel and attorneys, and the rest from various other sources. The Commission dismissed 244 of those, and imposed admonitions, reprimand, or censure for 4 of them.  Statistics are similar in other states; very few complaints about judges are found to valid. For example, in New York – a much larger state – only 12 public disciplinary opinions were issued in 2014.

To find court rules, look in CourtReference’s “Self Help and Legal Research” category of resources for your state. To find information about complaints and disciplinary procedures for both lawyers and judges, look in our “Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral” category – because we like to keep our lawyer- and judge-related resources together.

→ 1 CommentTags: Arkansas · Court Systems · · New York · Washington

Case Records Get More Mobile

March 28th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Just a few years ago, some courts started making court records and calendars available via mobile apps; we talked about it here. Those services required an iOS, Android, or BlackBerry app to be downloaded to your mobile device.

Since we last covered this topic, more court systems have offered mobile app access to their case records, calendars, and other information. Examples abound:

In Illinois, the Cook County Clerk of Circuit Court offers downloadable iOS and Android apps that include case record searches, traffic ticket searches, court location information and mapping, a fee schedule, and contact information.

In Ohio, the Toledo Municipal Court court calendar and fine payment app that our previous post said was on the way has arrived. Even better, it also includes a case record search. From the Clerk of Court’s website, you can still run a traditional website search for case records and schedules, or online fine payments, from links in the left column. But you can get the same information via a web app, which you can download from a link in the right column.

The above services require an app download. Some court systems are now offering mobile searches via a web app, which does not require a download and can be used by any device. For example:

In Pennsylvania, Philadephia’s Court of Common Pleas still offers downloadable iOS and Android apps to access upcoming hearing lists and docket entries for civil cases. But it also offers a web app (no download required) to access hearing lists for upcoming criminal cases.

Kansas’s statewide District Court case records search is now optimized for mobile use; no app download is required, and the results are the same for all devices – but the service does require payment per search or by subscription, regardless of device.

Finally, South Carolina’s Charleston County Clerk of Courts now offers case record searches via a no-download web app called Court Plus. Just go to the website on your smartphone, tablet, or PC and run your search. You can search Charleston County Circuit Court and Family Court records by party name, case number, or attorney’s bar number. You don’t even have to register – but if you do, you get access to enhanced services such as notifications or the ability to create a list of “favorite” cases. (I’m not sure how one decides that a case is a “favorite” but at least they don’t ask you to “like” a case!)

Note that you can also search Charleston County Family Court cases using a traditional website. The information provided by the two services is not identical; the traditional website search provides more information about events in the case, while the Court Plus web app provides more information about individual filings. You can also search Charleston County Circuit Court cases on the South Carolina Judicial Department’s statewide public index website.

As you can see, access to court records, calendars, and other court information is expanding and being made available to devices other than your desktop PC. It seems like only a few years ago that the only access was a search of hardcopy documents in file drawers in your local court clerk’s office. To keep up with the latest developments in court information access, keep an eye on CourtReference.

→ 1 CommentTags: Court Calendars · Court Systems · · Finding Court Records · Illinois · Kansas · News · Ohio · Pennsylvania · South Carolina · Technology

More Online Court Options

February 28th, 2015 · No Comments

Just a little over two years ago, we reported on a new trend in some courts: allowing people to fight their traffic tickets by mail. That was a departure from the traditional choices of paying your ticket, or having to go to court in person to fight it. Yet only two months later, we reported on a newer trend in some courts: allowing people go fight their parking tickets online. Tellingly, we closed that post with the observation that “[a]s with any innovation that makes life easier, more are sure to follow. ”

In the last two years, much more has followed. In the traffic ticket post, we noted a few Washington State courts that allowed ticket contests by mail; now there are many more. Along with the increased use of hearings by mail, several Washington courts now allow hearing requests to be submitted by e-mail – not only for parking tickets, but also for traffic tickets and other minor offenses. These minor offenses are called “infractions” in Washington. In order to respond to an infraction ticket, you can of course choose to simply pay the fine. But you can also request a mitigation hearing to explain the circumstances in hopes of convincing the judge to reduce the charges; or you can request a contested hearing in hopes of getting the charge dismissed.

The procedure adopted by many Washington courts starts with an online form on the court’s website, which you fill out with your contact information and a statement as to why you think the ticket should be reduced or dismissed. This form generates an e-mail which is sent to the court; the court then makes a decision and replies via e-mail. Some examples include Clallam County District Court,  Douglas County District Court, and Cheney Municipal Court.

Spokane County District Court even has an “eDeferral” program: You can request a deferral of your traffic ticket online; if granted, and you complete traffic school and stay ticket-free for a year, the charge will be dismissed. All this without leaving the comfort of your keyboard or touchscreen. Thurston County District Court even allows online deferral requests for non-traffic offenses, in addition to its online mitigation hearing request.

But wait! There’s more! If you are within the Jurisdiction of Pierce County District Court, you can request a mitigation or contested hearing by mail for an infraction, schedule a court date for an infraction, petition for an anti-harassment order or name change, and even start a small claims case – all online. Once you start a petition or small claims filing online, you can stop in the middle and then go back and finish it later. You can check the status online too.

Check CourtReference for your own state, county, and court, and check our Online Resources links (or the court’s own website) to see if your local court offers any of these technological time-savers.

→ No CommentsTags: Court Systems · · Technology · Washington