WASHINGTON The policy-making group for the U.S. federal judiciary said on Tuesday it had approved the first set of binding, nationwide rules on how misconduct or disability complaints against federal judges should be handled.
The new rules, which take effect in 30 days, set standards for various areas, including the conduct of investigations, the rights and roles of participants in the process, potential remedies and when the results should be made public.
The rules cover allegations of misconduct, such as abuse of power, bias, corruption, incompetence and conflict of interest, and complaints that a judge cannot perform his or her duties because of a mental or physical disability.
The judicial group unanimously approved the rules following recommendations made in 2006 by a special committee chaired by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. His panel found judges erred in handling misconduct complaints against their colleagues in nearly a third of 17 high-profile cases.
The rules partly came in response to criticism from members of Congress about the judiciary's ability to investigate and discipline itself, and calls by some lawmakers to create an inspector general position to investigate alleged misconduct.
U.S. Appeals Court Judge Ralph Winter, chairman of a committee on judicial conduct and disability, told reporters the rules contained the first comprehensive set of procedures that would apply uniformly across the country.
The previous rules, in effect since 1986, could be modified by individual judicial councils around the country.
Winter said between 600 and 800 judicial complaints are typically filed every year, though the vast majority of them are brought by unhappy litigants who lost their case and lack any merit and end up being dismissed.
(Editing by David Alexander and Mohammad Zargham)