Answers to Common Questions Regarding the Judicial Commission

What is the Wisconsin Judicial Commission?

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission was established as an independent agency by the Wisconsin Legislature in 1978. The Commission was created to investigate and prosecute allegations of judicial misconduct or disability on the part of Wisconsin judges and court commissioners.

What is judicial misconduct and disability?

Judicial misconduct is any violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct (as defined in Supreme Court Rule 60), which may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Failure to perform duties impartially and diligently
  • Failure to recuse based upon a conflict of interest
  • Rude, abusive, and otherwise improper treatment of parties, including counsel, witnesses, jurors, or court staff
  • Expressions of bias based on gender, ethnicity, etc.

Judicial misconduct does not include making findings of fact, reaching a legal conclusion, or applying the law, as the judge understands it. Claims of judicial error must be addressed through the appellate process.

Disability involves the physical or mental inability to perform judicial duties and functions.

Which judicial officials are subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission?

The Commission has jurisdiction over claims against state and local judicial officials in the judicial branch (including circuit court judges, Court of Appeals judges, Supreme Court justices, court commissioners, municipal court judges, and reserve judges eligible for appointment).

Which judicial officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission?

The Commission does not have jurisdiction over claims against federal judges or magistrates. Complaints regarding federal judicial officials should be sent to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (219 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60604 (312) 435-5850). The Commission also does not have jurisdiction over claims against state administrative law judges (ALJs). Such claims should be made directly to the agency that appointed the ALJ. Finally, the Commission does not have jurisdiction over claims against tribal court judges.

Does the Commission address claims against attorneys?

The Commission does not have jurisdiction over claims against attorneys. Complaints concerning a practicing attorney should be sent to the Office of Lawyer Regulation (110 East Main Street, Suite 315, Madison, WI 53703 (608) 267-7274).

Does the Commission address claims against candidates for judicial office?

Yes, but only if the candidate is currently a Supreme Court justice, a Court of Appeals judge, a reserve judge subject to appointment, a municipal judge, or a court commissioner.

It should be noted that the Office of Lawyer Regulation has jurisdiction over claims against attorney candidates for judicial office who are not currently judicial officials. (See SCR 20:8.2(b) and Wis. Stat. 757.81).

Does the Commission have a complaint form?

Yes. A complaint form may be provided via U.S mail upon request by contacting the Commission office. Alternately, a copy of the form is available online here.

How do I file a complaint with the Commission?

The Commission requests that complaints are submitted in writing via U.S. mail or facsimile to the Commission office. The complaint form contains specific instructions for submission. There is no benefit to filing a complaint in person. However, should you choose to do so, please contact the Commission office in advance to ensure that staff is available to personally receive a hand-delivered submission upon its delivery.

May I speak privately with individual Commission members or personally appear before the Commission?

No. All communications must be made in writing and directed to the Commission office.

Will the judicial official know that I submitted a complaint?

No, if you affirmatively request that the Commission not disclose your identity to the judicial official prior to the filing of a petition or formal complaint in the Supreme Court. The request for confidentiality of identity must be clearly made in writing. The third page of the complaint form includes a box to check if a complainant seeks confidentiality of identity.

Can the Commission grant relief to a litigant, take action to alter the outcome of a case, compel the judge's recusal from a case, or become involved in a court proceeding?

No, the Commission is not a court and cannot intervene in a court proceeding.

Does the Commission provide legal advice?

No. The Commission and its staff are not authorized to give legal advice or represent clients. However, the Commission's Executive Director may render informal guidance concerning the proper interpretation of the Code of Judicial Conduct to judicial officials, attorneys, and other public officials in certain limited circumstances.

Should I delay my appeal or any other action in my case until my complaint has been resolved?

No. A complaint of judicial misconduct submitted to the Commission is a matter completely separate and independent of such litigation and no action taken by the Commission will have any effect on any legal decision on appeal or otherwise.

Will I hear further from the Commission?

Yes. The Commission will inform you of the disposition of your complaint in writing via U.S. mail.

How long does the complaint process take?

The Commission has no emergency powers and cannot, under any circumstances, interfere in any pending or ongoing litigation. The judicial complaint process takes time, and it is difficult to predict just how long it will take to fully address any particular complaint, given the high volume of complaints received by the Commission and the care that is taken to address the issues presented in a thorough manner.