The ethical conduct of judges is of the highest importance to the people of the State of West Virginia and to the legal profession. Every judge shall observe the highest standards of judicial conduct. In furtherance of this goal, the Supreme Court of Appeals promulgated the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct and the West Virginia Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure. The Court also established the Judicial Investigation Commission [Commission] to determine whether probable cause exists to formally charge a judge with a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, to govern the ethical conduct of judges or to ascertain that a judge, because of advancing years and attendant physical and mental incapacity, should not continue to serve.
A "judge" is defined as "anyone whether or not a lawyer who is an officer of a judicial system and who performs judicial functions including but not limited to Justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Circuit Judges, Family Court Judges, Magistrates, Mental Hygiene Commissioners, Juvenile Referees, Special Commissioners, and Special Masters."
The Commission consists of nine members: three circuit judges; one magistrate; one family court judge; one senior status judge, and three members of the public. All members of the Commission are appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The Commission has the authority to: (1) determine whether probable cause exists to formally charge a judge with a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct or that a judge, because of advancing years and attendant physical or mental incapacity should not continue to serve; (2) propose rules of procedure for judicial disciplinary proceedings for promulgation by the Supreme Court of Appeals; (3) file an annual report with the Supreme Court of Appeals on the operation of the Commission; (4) inform the public about the existence and operation of the judicial disciplinary system, the filing of formal charges, and the discipline imposed or recommended on formal charges; (5) delegate in its discretion, to the Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, the authority to act for the Commission on administrative and procedural matters; (6) nominate, for selection by the Supreme Court of Appeals, candidates for the position of Judicial Disciplinary Counsel; and (7) engage in such other activities related to judicial discipline as it deems appropriate.
Teresa Tarr, Counsel
Brian J. Lanham, Assistant Counsel
Pam Schafer, Executive Assistant
City Center East
Suite 1200 A
4700 MacCorkle Ave., S.E.
Charleston, West Virginia 25304
Office hours are
Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Filing a Complaint
Any person may file an ethics complaint against a judge. However, a complaint that is filed more than two (2) years after the complainant knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, of the existence of a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct may be dismissed for exceeding the statute of limitations. Ethics complaints are initially reviewed by counsel, who may then ask the respondent judge for a reply, may refer the matter to an investigator for examination or may send it directly to the members of the Commission for study prior to consideration at the next meeting. Complaints which are referred directly to the Commission for consideration may be dismissed for lack of probable cause, ordered sent to the respondent judge for a reply or referred for investigation.
Prior to any finding of probable cause by the Commission, a respondent judge shall be notified in writing of the nature of the complaint. The judge has ten (10) days after the date of the notice to file a written response to the complaint. All decisions on whether probable cause exists to refer the complaint to the Judicial Hearing Board are made by the Commission at meetings with a majority of the members in attendance. Likewise all decisions on complaint dismissals are made by the Commission at meetings with a majority of the members in attendance. Parties are contacted about the action of the Commission after a decision has been made on a complaint.
Some complaints contain more than one allegation against a judge, and the commission may dismiss part of a complaint and find probable cause on part of a complaint.
The Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure include a provision that all information provided, documents filed or testimony given with respect to any investigation or proceeding under the Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure shall be privileged in any action for defamation. All members of the Commission, the Judicial Committee on Assistance and Intervention, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, and their employees, shall be absolutely immune from civil suit in the same manner as members of the judiciary in this state for any conduct in the course of their official duties.
More about filing a complaint