April 25, 2019
The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:
At the request of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor presents this audit report of the Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP). CJP is the agency charged with investigating complaints about judicial misconduct and deciding whether to discipline California judges for violations of the code of judicial ethics, and our review found that CJP must address the following weaknesses:
- It does not consistently take all reasonable steps when it investigates alleged misconduct.
- Its structure and disciplinary processes do not align with best practices.
- It has not worked sufficiently to increase its transparency and accessibility.
In about one-third of the cases we reviewed, we found that CJP’s investigators did not take all reasonable steps to determine the existence or extent of alleged misconduct, such as inappropriate demeanor or improper delegation of duties to court staff. These missed steps include not speaking with all relevant witnesses, not obtaining additional evidence, and not taking a broad approach to determining misconduct in light of a pattern of allegations. Furthermore, CJP’s structure—as a single entity that both investigates alleged judicial misconduct and makes decisions about the appropriate level of discipline—results in judges facing potential discipline from a body of commissioners that is privy to unfounded allegations of misconduct. CJP also delegates responsibility for evidentiary hearings on alleged misconduct to three judges appointed by the Supreme Court of California, a practice that falls short of the voters’ intent to increase the public’s role in judicial discipline with the passage of Proposition 190 in 1994. Finally, CJP has not taken steps to hold meetings that are open to the public or to accept electronically submitted complaints, despite decades of public scrutiny about its lack of transparency and inaccessibility.
CJP’s operations and structure must change significantly to address the issues that this audit revealed. CJP can change its internal policies to address concerns about the planning and supervision of its investigations. However, changes to CJP’s structure will require an amendment to the California Constitution and CJP will need to inform the Legislature about any related funding needs as it adjusts its practices.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor