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For Immediate Release For Further Information Contact:
June 10, 2004 Public Information Office
Phone: (202) 479-3211

Judicial Conduct and Disability Act Study Committee
Organizational Meeting
June 10, 2004

The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act Study Committee held its initial organizational meeting today at the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice established the Committee, chaired by Justice Stephen Breyer, to evaluate how the federal judicial system has implemented the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980. (See 28 U.S.C. §§ 351-364.) That Act authorizes "any person" to file a complaint alleging that a federal circuit judge, district judge, bankruptcy judge, or magistrate judge has "engaged in conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts," or is physically or mentally unable to perform his or her duties. The Act does not itself prescribe ethical standards; nor does it apply to the Supreme Court.

At today's meeting, the Committee decided that it will initially examine as many non-frivolous Act-related complaints as can be identified, along with a statistical sample of all complaints, filed in the last several years. The Committee will use this information to help shape a further course of examination and analysis, eventually leading to Committee recommendations to the Chief Justice.

"The Committee's task is narrow, but important," Justice Breyer said. "The 1980 Act put a system in place so that action can be taken when judges engage in misconduct or are physically or mentally unable to carry out their duties. We need to see how the system is working. The public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial branch depends not only upon the Constitution's assurance of judicial independence. It also depends upon the public's understanding that effective complaint procedures, and remedies, are available in instances of misconduct or disability."

In addition to Justice Breyer, the Committee members are: Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit); Judge Pasco M. Bowman (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit); Judge D. Brock Hornby (U.S. District Court for the District of Maine); Judge Sarah Evans Barker (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana); and Sally M. Rider (administrative assistant to the Chief Justice).

The Committee will use staff drawn from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and the Federal Judicial Center. The staff will develop a research plan based both on statistical sampling and interviews, including interviews of judges, administrators, and practicing lawyers, such as prosecutors and defense attorneys. It will examine complaints submitted by members of the public to other institutions, including Congress, and will develop methods for obtaining information from members of the public. Although the Committee will proceed publicly where useful and appropriate, it recognizes the statutory requirement to maintain confidentiality of records and complaints. (See 28 U.S.C. § 360.) It will likely take eighteen months to two years for the Committee to complete its work. The Committee will meet again in the fall.


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