8 of the 12 cases initiated by the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board so far in 2015 have been either formal complaints based on the judge’s conviction of a crime or petitions for the interim suspension of a judge pending the outcome of criminal charges. For example, in June, the Board filed a complaint based on a judge’s guilty plea to state charges related to his dismissal of a criminal complaint against the nephew of the assistant district attorney assigned to his courtroom. Most recently, the Board filed a petition for the interim suspension with or without pay of a judge charged by state prosecutors with bribery, official oppression, indecent assault, and harassment for non-consensual contact with the victim in a criminal matter over which he had presided and soliciting a female defendant to model lingerie for him in return for his vacating the costs and fines he had imposed on her.
In some states, litigating whether a judge should be suspended or removed based on criminal charges or convictions is unnecessary because suspension with pay is required with the filing of a serious criminal charge, suspension without pay is required following conviction, and removal is required when the conviction becomes final.
For example, the Arizona constitution provides that “a judge is disqualified from acting as a judge, without loss of salary, while there is pending an indictment or an information charging him in the United States with a crime punishable as a felony under Arizona or federal law . . . .” A Connecticut statute provides:
A judge, compensation commissioner, or family support magistrate is disqualified from acting as a judge, compensation commissioner, or a family support magistrate, as the case may be, while there is pending (1) a charge against him for a crime punishable as a felony under the laws of this state or federal law, or a charge against him in another jurisdiction which would be punishable as a felony under Connecticut or federal law, or (2) a charge against him for a crime under the law of any jurisdiction which involves moral turpitude under Connecticut law . . . .
In Indiana, by rule, “a judicial officer shall be suspended with pay by the Supreme Court without the necessity of action by the Commission [on Judicial Qualifications] upon the filing of an indictment or information charging the judicial officer in any court in the United States with a crime punishable as a felony under the laws of Indiana or the United States.”
Further, a judge’s conviction triggers mandatory suspension without pay in some states, followed by removal if the conviction becomes final. For example, the Georgia constitution states:
Upon initial conviction of any judge for any felony in a trial court of this state or the United States . . . , such judge shall be immediately and without further action suspended from office. While a judge is suspended from office under this subparagraph, he shall not be entitled to receive the compensation from his office. If the conviction is later overturned as a result of any direct appeal or application for a writ of certiorari, the judge shall be immediately reinstated to the office from which he was suspended and shall be entitled to receive any compensation withheld under the provisions of this subparagraph. For the duration of any suspension under this subparagraph, the Governor shall appoint a replacement judge. Upon a final conviction with no appeal or review pending, the office shall be declared vacant and a successor to that office shall be chosen as provided in this Constitution or the laws enacted in pursuance thereof.
In Texas, pursuant to the government code, “a judge is automatically removed from the judge’s office if the judge is convicted of or is granted deferred adjudication for: (1) a felony; or (2) a misdemeanor involving official misconduct.”
In some states, an affirmative act by the supreme court or conduct commission is necessary to suspend or remove a judge convicted of a crime, but the action is mandatory. For example, the Colorado constitution provides:
Whenever a justice or judge of any court of this state has been convicted in any court of this state or of the United States or of any state, of a felony or other offense involving moral turpitude, the supreme court shall, of its own motion or upon petition filed by any person, and upon finding that such a conviction was had, enter its order suspending said justice or judge from office until such time as said judgment of conviction becomes final, and the payment of salary of said justice or judge shall also be suspended from the date of such order. If said judgment of conviction becomes final, the supreme court shall enter its order removing said justice or judge from office and declaring his office vacant and his right to salary shall cease from the date of the order of suspension.
The California constitution states:
The Commission on Judicial Performance shall suspend a judge from office without salary when in the United States the judge pleads guilty or no contest or is found guilty of a crime punishable as a felony under California or federal law or of any other crime that involves moral turpitude under that law. If the conviction is reversed, suspension terminates, and the judge shall be paid the salary for the judicial office held by the judge for the period of suspension. If the judge is suspended and the conviction becomes final, the Commission on Judicial Performance shall remove the judge from office.