The Complaint Process

Any person may file a complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Board ("Board"). The complaint, which is required to be submitted in writing, must state facts that substantiate any alleged misconduct or incapacity.

When a complaint is made against a judge, the Board acknowledges receipt of the complaint in writing. After an analysis by staff, the complaint and other relevant documents are forwarded to each Board member for review prior to its monthly meeting. At its meeting, the Board determines appropriate action, which may include the following:

  • Close the complaint because the allegations did not constitute incapacity and/or misconduct under the law and standards of judicial conduct in Illinois. Most often these complaints concern a losing litigant's subjective perception that justice was not obtained in his or her cause. By closing the complaint, the Board does not pass judgment on the merits of the case. This is the sole responsibility of the Appellate Court. A letter is sent to the complainant informing him or her that the complaint has been closed.
  • Investigate the complaint. An investigation may entail writing a letter to the judge to request his or her explanation of the matter, reviewing court and non-court documents, interviewing the complainant as well as other witnesses, or monitoring courtrooms.  Investigations are continued until the Board has sufficient information upon which to base a final determination.
  • Appear before the Board. Require the judge to appear before the Board and respond to questions regarding allegations of misconduct and/or incapacity. In this instance, the judge is served with written notice setting forth the allegations against him or her.

After an investigation is completed, the complaint and investigative materials are forwarded to each Board member for review prior to its monthly meeting. At its meeting, the Board determines appropriate action, which may include the following: 

  • Close the complaint because of insufficient cause to take further action.
  • Close the complaint but monitor the judge's courtroom.
  • Close the complaint and issue the judge a private letter of admonishment or caution.

Note: In each of the above instances, a letter is sent to the complainant informing him or her that the complaint has been closed.

  • Require the judge to appear before the Board and respond to questions regarding allegations of misconduct and/or incapacity. In this instance, the judge is served with written notice setting forth the allegations against him or her.

In instances where the Board requires the judge to appear, the Board may take the following action after the judge's appearance: 

  • Close the complaint.
  • Close the complaint but monitor the judge's courtroom.
  • Close the complaint and issue the judge a private letter of admonishment or caution.
  • Defer termination of the investigation for a period not to exceed two years for observation and review of the judge's conduct.

Note: In each of the above instances, a letter is sent to the complainant informing him or her that the complaint has been closed.

  • File formal charges against the judge with the Illinois Courts Commission ("Commission").

In those cases where the Board does file a formal complaint with the Courts Commission, the Board serves as prosecutor in the proceedings before the Commission. If the Commission sustains the Board's complaint, it has the sole authority to impose the following sanctions:

  • Remove from office

  • Suspend without pay

  • Censure

  • Reprimand

  • Suspend, with or without pay, or retire a judge who is physically or mentally unable to perform his or her duties


The Board has only limited authority to correct perceived shortcomings in the administration of justice. It cannot intervene in ongoing litigation, have a judge removed from a case, review judicial decisions, take action against judges for being "too hard" or "too soft" in sentencing or for setting bond "too high" or "too low." The Board has no jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct and/or incapacity against retired judges, lawyers, police officers, court personnel, administrative law judges, federal judges, arbitrators, hearing officers, or anyone other than active judges of the State of Illinois.

Like most other states, the initial investigation by the Board is conducted on a confidential basis. The matter remains confidential until a determination is made to publicly charge a judge with misconduct and/or incapacity. Should someone other than a Board or staff member make public the existence of a Board inquiry or investigation, such disclosure is not within the authority of the Board to address. This constitutional requirement of confidentiality protects the judiciary from unjust criticism and protects those who furnish information to the Board. The confidentiality requirement also means, however, that the Board cannot discuss its investigations with third parties and will not engage in debate over why it did or did not publicly charge a judge in a particular situation.


The many grievances to the Board that do not result in charges being filed with the Courts Commission are nonetheless helpful in the improvement of the judicial system. Sometimes the judge under investigation will retire/resign prior to a Complaint being filed with the Courts Commission. Also, a complaint of a single instance of alleged judicial impropriety, standing alone, may not be sufficient to publicly charge a judge before the Courts Commission, but subsequent complaints against the same judge may ultimately call for Board action. The availability of such a mechanism to the public for the expression of grievances is a very real, though intangible, benefit.

 

IMPAIRMENT

Alcohol or drug abuse by a judicial officer may suggest a possible impairment in the performance of judicial duties. In the absence of associated judicial misconduct, the Board initially pursues such matters with a view towards intervention. If it appears that instances of misconduct resulted from alcohol or drug abuse, the Board will emphasize treatment while mindful of its public responsibility to charge and prosecute aberrant conduct.

INCAPACITY

A sensitive and difficult problem confronting the Board is the physically and mentally incapacitated judge. This issue can arise concerning a judge who has given many years of able service to the State. Most judges who become physically or mentally disabled retire without any action on the part of the Board. In other cases, the fact that an investigation was initiated may lead to a voluntary decision by the judge to retire.