Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Judicial Misconduct Definition:

Conduct on the part of a judge that is prohibited and which could lead to a form of discipline.

Related Terms: Judicial Independence

Pursuant to title 28, chapter 16 of the United States Code, judicial misconduct is vaguely defined, at §351(a):

".... conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or (an inability) to discharge all the duties of office by reason of mental or physical disability."

Pinning down a precise definition of judicial misconduct is challenging since most codes of judicial conduct include, generally, a prohibition against conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that could bring the judicial office into disrepute.

The American encyclopedia of law, Corpus Juris Secundum ((Title 48A, "Judges"), while sidestepping the requirement for a concise definition, nonetheless provides this helpful summary of the law:

"(A) judge's conduct must be free from impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and that both his official and personal behavior be in accordance with the highest standard society can expect. The standard of conduct is higher than expected of lay people and also higher than that expected of attorneys. The ultimate standard must be conduct which constantly reaffirms fitness for the high responsibilities of judicial office, and judges must so comport themselves as to dignify the administration of justice and deserve the confidence and respect of the public."

Examples of specific instances of judicial misconduct include:

  • The use of a harsh and angry tone and demeanor,
  • Excessive arrogance,
  • Lack of impartiality,
  • Incompetence,
  • Improper political or even charitable or fund-raising activities,
  • Sexually harassing conduct,
  • Off-the-record, private communication with a litigant about a pending case,
  • Criminal conduct,
  • Conflict of interest,
  • An ethnic or racial slur,
  • Physical or mental disability,
  • Bankruptcy or insolvency,
  • Misuse of prestige of office,
  • Allowing cameras in the courtroom,
  • Receiving a bribe or gift from a litigant,
  • Making it public comment on a pending case or which shows prejudgment
  • Failure to recuse oneself in an appropriate case, and
  • Administrative mismanagement such as a failure to render a judgment in a reasonable amount of time.


  • 28 United States Code 16, Complaints Against Judges and Judicial Discipline
  • Canadian Judicial Council, Ethical Principles for Judges
  • Goldschmidt, Jona and others, The Relationship Between Method of Judicial Selection and Judicial Misconduct, 18 Widener L.J. 455 (2008-2009)
  • Hellman, Arthur, When Judges are Accused: An Initial Look at the New Federal Judicial Misconduct Rules, 22 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Pub. Pol'y 325 (2008)
  • Judicial Conference of the United States
  • NOTE 1: Charles Geyh, Hearing on H. Res. 916, Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property of the House Commimitee on the Judiciary, 109th Congress 148-49 (2006)

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