Misconduct complaints against federal judges rarely become public, and few face consequences

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Few federal judges face consequences as a result of misconduct complaints, and few of the complaints become public, according to a CNN analysis.

CNN reviewed nearly 5,000 judicial orders related to misconduct complaints and found that the documents “are remarkably short on details.” Since 2006, fewer than 10 cases a year were referred to a special committee for a closer investigation, and in six of the past 11 years no judges were sanctioned for misconduct.

In some high-profile cases, judges facing misconduct complaints retire, putting an end to the investigation and preserving access to their pensions, the CNN investigation found.

Many of the cases involving sexual misconduct were first publicized by the media or disclosed by an outside party. Many of the documents regarding complaints are made public as scanned documents that cannot be searched for keywords online. CNN converted the documents to a searchable format for its analysis.

In the year that ended on Sept. 30, 2016, only four complaints against judges were referred to the special committee out of about 1,300 complaints there were filed, according to statistics released by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. The previous year, there were about 1,200 complaints and four referrals to the special committee.

Most complaints are dismissed because they take issue with a judge’s ruling rather than conduct. The federal judiciary categorizes the complaints, but there is no category specifically for conduct toward employees. There is a catchall category called “other misconduct” that could include such complaints. In 2016, there were 354 complaints in that category.

The issue of judicial misconduct received press attention when Judge Alex Kozinski of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was accused of sexual misconduct. He announced his retirement in December.

Less than two weeks later, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his State of the Judiciary Report that the judiciary will evaluate the way it handles complaints of sexual harassment.

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