GUIDE TO THE ETHICAL OBLIGATIONS OF NEVADA JUDGES
AND FILING A COMPLAINT WITH THE
NEVADA COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL DISCIPLINE
P.O. Box 48
Carson City, NV 89702
Doug Jones, Chairman
Gary Vause, Vice-Chairperson
David F. Sarnowski, Esq., General Counsel & Executive Director
Thank you for inquiring about judicial conduct and disability with the Nevada
Commission on Judicial Discipline (the "Commission"). The Commission has been in
existence since the mid-1970's and its authority is defined by the Nevada
Constitution (Article 6, Section 21), the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS §1.425,
et seq.) and by its own adopted Procedural Rules. The current versions of these
requirements can be found in the laws of the State of Nevada, commonly called
the Nevada Revised Statutes, available at local law or larger public libraries
or the same information can be accessed on the Commission's web site found at
At the start of our explanation about what the Commission does, and how it
can assist you, it is important to understand that the Commission's powers are
limited by Nevada law and are solely those of a regulator of judicial conduct
and disability. The Commission is not an appellate court and generally
has no power to overturn a decision of a judicial officer. Rather, the
task of reviewing and addressing questions of legal error is normally
performed by Nevada's appellate courts.
Rather than focus on the correctness of a decision, the Commission focuses on
a judicial officer's conduct or disability. If the Commission finds that a
judicial officer failed to adhere to the Nevada Code of Judicial Conduct (Part
VI of the Nevada Supreme Court Rules) (the "Code"), as that Code is periodically
amended by the Nevada Supreme Court, the Commission is granted the independent
power to discipline or caution a judicial officer for failure to abide by the
Code governing his or her conduct. In addition, if the Commission finds that a
judicial officer can no longer carry out his or her judicial duties due to a
significant disability, it may temporarily or permanently remove a judicial
officer or impose conditions regarding the judicial officer's future duties.
Nevada Supreme Court Rules
Part VI. NEVADA CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
Our legal system is based on the
principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary will interpret
and apply the laws that govern us. The role of the judiciary is central to
American concepts of justice and the rule of law.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE
1. What does the Code regulate and what is a Canon?
The Code is based upon a model set of four Canons plus
explanations (called Commentaries) that most of the States in the United States
have adopted in the same or nearly the same form so as to govern judicial
conduct similarly across the country. Canons are separate sections designed to
state ethical rules applicable to judges. Each of the Canons express a related
group of requirements that a judicial officer must abide by while serving in
Nevada and acting as a judicial officer. These are not advisory or aspirational
rules; rather, they are mandatory and binding. The five Canons deal with topics
such as a judge remaining dignified or impartial; not deviating from the law;
not failing to disqualify from a case due to bias or other reasons; what
judicial officers can do with regard to outside interests including their own;
how a judge should campaign for judicial office; and many additional topics.
2. Does the Code cover full-time and part-time
judicial officers? How about magistrates and referees? How about attorneys?
The Code (and therefore the Commission) broadly covers
full-time, part-time, pro tem and senior judicial officers, magistrates and
referees who are part of the court system in Nevada. The Code and the Commission
does not cover Federal system judges (even in Nevada), tribal or out-of-state
judges. The Code and the Commission regulate only the conduct of judicial
officers and not the conduct of other elected officials. The Code and the
Commission do not regulate attorneys unless they are also judicial officers. If
you wish to complain about a Nevada attorney please contact the State Bar of
Nevada at (800) 254-2797 or (702) 382-2200.
3. I do not like the way a Nevada
judicial officer handled my civil or criminal case. Should I file a complaint
against him or her?
The decision to file a complaint is a serious
step you should not take lightly or file simply to "get back" at a judicial
officer for a decision you disagree with. You will be asked to sign a verified
(sworn) complaint against the judge and this raises serious charges. If you file
a complaint not within the jurisdiction of the Commission or a complaint that
does not provide a reasonable inference of violation of one or more of the
Code's Canons, it will likely be dismissed. Therefore, you should attempt to
carefully state what the judicial officer did to violate the Code and provide
reasonable and accurate details to support your claim. Recent statistics
regarding Commission disciplinary activity efforts may be found on the
Commission's Internet web site listed above.
4. If I file a complaint, can the
judicial officer retaliate against me? Will the judge know I filed the
complaint? Should I mention that I filed a complaint in court and try to change
If the judicial officer retaliates against you
for filing a complaint, that would be an unwise decision and could lead to
additional charges of misconduct being lodged against the judicial officer. You
should inform us if the judicial officer does engage in conduct of this type.
Generally, the judicial officer will not be told you have complained about him
or her (unless someone out of the Commission's control informs him or her). Only
if the matter proceeds to an investigatory stage or to a stage where the judge's
response is requested will the judicial officer learn of the complaint.
5. What discipline can the Commission
give to a judicial officer who acts inappropriately? Will the public know if the
judicial officer is disciplined?
Forms of punishment are set by the Nevada
Legislature and the precise punishment deemed proper in any case is decided upon
by the Commission after finding a violation. Punishment currently includes
removal as its most serious remedy; however, removal requires an even higher
level of proof than other sanctions. Sanctions of a less drastic nature are also
possible and the ability to correct minor errors by cautionary warning is an
additional option available to the Commission. Whether the general public learns
of the final disposition of the case and any sanctions applied by the Commission
or the disposition remains confidential depends upon whether the case became a
formal (public) case or remained as a confidential matter. You will normally be
informed of a case becoming public and until being so informed you should
consider your case as confidential. If you are unsure if the case is formal or
confidential, please ask the Commission or its staff before publicly announcing
any disposition you might be informed about since you could violate existing law
by mentioning the disposition of a confidential case.
6. Does filing a complaint give me more
time to appeal my case?
No, it does not. You must timely file any appeal
with the correct court if you wish to appeal. Filing a complaint with the
Commission is a separate process and does not change any period(s) to appeal
your case or decision. Do not file your appeal with the Commission.
7. How soon will the Commission address
my complaint if I file one?
Normally Commission meetings are held quarterly
(four times per year). You should receive confirming information from the
Commission or its staff soon after filing your complaint about the planned date
the Commission will fully consider your complaint. You are not asked to attend
the Commission meeting since discussions about your matter by law are conducted
in private session. If further information about your case is needed, you will
8. Where can I obtain a complaint form
and more information?
You can obtain a misconduct or disability
complaint form and much more information from the Commission's Internet web site
listed on the front page of this brochure; or, by writing the Commission; or, by
calling or faxing your request to the Commission.