The Commission’s procedures are designed to:
· Provide a fair, consistent and effective process for reviewing complaints of unethical conduct against judicial officers and court employees
· Ensure that the integrity of the court system, in general, and the reputations of judicial officers and court employees, in particular, are not damaged by false, inaccurate, groundless or frivolous allegations
· Ensure that judicial officers and court employees are held accountable to the public for acts of misconduct
· Preserve both the integrity and the accountability of Iowa’s fair and impartial court system
The Iowa Legislature created the laws that provide the basic framework for the Commission’s procedure. In addition, the Commission has more detailed procedures, which are set out in chapter 52 of the Iowa Court Rules.
Link to Judicial Qualifications Commission Procedure Flow Chart
Step One—Submittal of Complaint:
· Every complaint received by the commission is given a case number and all commission members receive a copy of every complaint and any supporting materials in advance of the quarterly meeting.
Step Two—Initial Review (Inquiry)
· If the commission determines that the complaint is clear and serious or habitual, it may skip certain steps and formulate charges without an initial inquiry.
· If, at any point in the process, the commission decides the misconduct is not clear and serious nor habitual it may dismiss the complaint. The commission will also dismiss complaints about the fairness or correctness of a ruling and complaints that lack sufficient details about the facts involved.
· The commission can also issue a private reprimand at any point in the process in the form of a letter of caution and warning to the judge or employee. The letter is confidential and warns the judicial officer or court employee that additional complaints could lead to disciplinary action.
· Each complaint is discussed at the quarterly meeting of the Judicial Qualifications Commission until the commission reaches a consensus or determines the judicial officer or court employee named in the complaint should respond to the accusations.
· If a response is required, the chair will send the judicial officer or court employee a letter describing the allegations and offer the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
Step Three—Investigation and Disposition
· If it is clear that the allegation require further investigation or if the allegation is one of several similar allegations against the same judicial officer or court employee, the commission will forward the complaint to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for investigation. The attorney general office can interview witnesses themselves, or include the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation in the investigation.
· Once the investigation is completed, the Attorney General will submit a report on its findings to the commission.
· If the investigation shows clear and serious misconduct, the commission will forward a copy of the investigation report to the accused judicial officer or court employee and set a hearing date. The judicial officer or court employee can decide if the hearing should be in his or her home county or moved to another county.
Step Four—Evidentiary Hearing
· At the hearing, called an evidentiary hearing:
o A record of the hearing is made by a court reporter.
o The commission and the appointed investigator have subpoena power.
o The judicial officer or court employee has the right to:
§ participate in person and by counsel
§ cross-examine witnesses
§ be confronted by witnesses
§ present evidence
§ issue subpoenas
· After the hearing, the commission can:
o dismiss the complaint
o give a private reprimand or admonition (a letter of caution and warning)
o make a recommendation to the supreme court
Step Five—Recommendations to the Supreme Court
The commission can make a recommendation for disciplinary action to the supreme court for a public reprimand, temporary suspension without pay (up to 12 months) or termination.
The supreme court evaluates the circumstances of the case independent of the commission’s report and recommendations. The attorney general is the prosecutor in the proceedings on behalf of the state. The attorney general has the burden of proof and must convince the supreme court that the complaint is true by a “preponderance of evidence.” The proceedings are similar to oral arguments before the supreme court. The supreme court ultimately determines the appropriate discipline and will substitute its judgment for that of the commission when appropriate.
The evaluation and investigation process are confidential up to the point when the commission makes a recommendation, if any, to the supreme court. The report filed with the supreme court is a public record as are all subsequent documents filed with the court. The hearing before the supreme court is open to the public. Commission members, staff, and court personnel, including lawyers, are prohibited from disclosing the fact that a complaint was made or that an investigation is pending until the commission makes a recommendation to the supreme court.
Confidentiality allows people to express their concerns without fear of reprisal or retribution. Confidentiality also protects the reputation of the person accused from unsubstantiated allegations.