The Commission’s procedures are designed to:
Provide a fair, consistent and effective process for reviewing complaints of unethical conduct against judicial officers and court employees
Ensure that the integrity of the court system, in general, and the reputations of judicial officers and court employees, in particular, are not damaged by false, inaccurate, groundless or frivolous allegations
Ensure that judicial officers and court employees are held accountable to the public for acts of misconduct
Preserve both the integrity and the accountability of Iowa’s fair and impartial court system
The Iowa Legislature created the laws that provide the basic framework for the Commission’s procedure. In addition, the Commission has more detailed procedures, which are set out in chapter 52 of the Iowa Court Rules.
Step One—Submittal of Complaint:
Every complaint received by the commission is given a case number and all commission members receive a copy of every complaint and any supporting materials in advance of the quarterly meeting.
Step Two—Initial Review (Inquiry)
If the commission determines that the complaint clearly establishes evidence of serious or habitual misconduct by a judge, the commission may skip certain steps and formulate charges without an initial injury.
If, at any point in the process, the commission decides the misconduct is not clear or that the alleged misconduct is not serious or habitual, the commission may dismiss the complaint. The commission will also dismiss complaints about fairness or correctness of a ruling because those are legal issues that can be addressed only by filing an appeal.
If the commission concludes, after investigating a complaint, that there is evidence of misconduct, but the misconduct was not sufficiently serious to justify public discipline, the commission can issue a private reprimand in the form of a letter of caution and warning to the judge or employee. The letter is confidential and warns the judicial officer or court employee to avoid such conduct in the future and that additional complaints about similar misconduct could lead to disciplinary action.
The commission discusses each complaint during its quarterly meeting until the commission reaches a consensus on whether to dismiss the complaint or to order a further investigation of the matter.
If a response is required, the chair will send the judicial officer or court employee a letter describing the allegations and offer the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
Step Three—Investigation and Disposition
If it is clear that the allegation require is serious and requires further investigation beyond a written response from the judge, the commission will forward the complaint to the Iowa Attorney General's Office for investigation. The Attorney General's Office can interview witnesses themselves, or include the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation in the investigation.
Once the investigation is completed, the Assistant Attorney General assigned to the case will submit a report on its findings to the commission.
If the report concludes the evidence does not support the allegations, the commission may dismiss the complaint. If the investigation shows clear and serious misconduct that justifies disciplinary action, the commission will draft a formal charge or charges, serve the charging document on the judge, and set a hearing date. The judicial officer or court employee can decide if the hearing should be in his or her home county or moved to another county.
Step Four—Evidentiary Hearing
At the hearing, called an evidentiary hearing:
A court reporter will keep a record of the hearing.
The commission and the appointed investigator have subpoena power.
The judicial officer or court employee has the right to:
participate in person and be represented by counsel
be confronted by witnesses
After the hearing, the commission can:
dismiss the complaint
give a private reprimand or admonition (a letter of caution and warning)
submit a written recommendation to the Iowa Supreme Court to formally discipline the judge or court employee
Step Five—Recommendations to the Supreme Court
The commission can make a recommendation for disciplinary action to the supreme court for a public reprimand, temporary suspension without pay (up to 12 months) or termination.
The supreme court evaluates the circumstances of the case independent of the commission’s report and recommendations. The attorney general is the prosecutor in the proceedings on behalf of the state. The attorney general has the burden of proof and must convince the supreme court that the complaint is true by a “substantial preponderance of evidence.” The proceedings are similar to oral arguments before the supreme court. The supreme court ultimately determines the appropriate discipline and will substitute its judgment for that of the commission when appropriate.
The evaluation and investigation process are confidential up to the point when the commission makes a recommendation, if any, to the supreme court. When the commission files a written recommendation with the supreme court, the complaint, written correspondence between the commission and the judge, the transcript of the evidentiary hearing, the commission's written recommendation filed with the supreme court, all documents subsequently filed with the court are public records. The hearing before the supreme court is open to the public. Commission members, staff, and court personnel, including lawyers, are prohibited from disclosing the fact that a complaint was made or that an investigation is pending until the commission makes a recommendation to the supreme court.
Confidentiality allows people to express their concerns without fear of reprisal or retribution. Confidentiality also protects the reputation of the person accused from unsubstantiated allegations.