The state Supreme Court on Tuesday announced that disciplinary complaints filed against Delaware judges would be reviewed by three-member panels of the high court, and not solely by the chief justice.
The rule change maintains Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr.’s role in deciding whether the complaints have merit, but dismissal will now require the unanimous approval of two other justices of the Supreme Court, according to a press release from Supreme Court Administrator William S. Montgomery.
Until now, only the chief justice has been responsible for screening incoming complaints. The statement, however, cited “concerns” that the old system did not reflect Delaware’s bipartisan judiciary, and placed too much “pressure” on a single judge to make a decision without any input from colleagues.
“By this means, the bipartisan composition of the Delaware Judiciary will be brought to bear at all stages of the proceeding,” the statement said.
“And, as important, this collaborative approach will ensure that the judgment of three justices is brought to bear on the important question of whether a complaint against a judicial officer states a claim under the Delaware Judges’ Code of Judicial Conduct.”
There was no basis to believe that a judge’s political party had influenced any dismissal decision, the statement said.
Complaints determined to have merit are forwarded to a 12-member panel of attorneys and nonlawyers, which then reports its recommendations to the Court on the Judiciary. That court, made up of all five Supreme Court justices and the Judiciary’s presiding judges, is responsible for final disciplinary rulings.
Francis G.X. Pileggi, member-in-charge of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, said the move was part of an administrative approach to increasing transparency for the Supreme Court.
“It’s a commonsense, logical, natural way of approaching the complaints to that court, which I have to assume are small in number,” he said.
Montgomery said the Supreme Court receives “several” disciplinary complaints each month, and many of those are dismissed. Strine, he said, had been looking for ways to improve the system and involve more of his colleagues in the decision-making process.
“He just wasn’t comfortable with that,” Montgomery said.
“It gives three people the chance to look at it and not just one.”
The rules applied only to judicial officers and not members of the Delaware bar generally. Complaints against attorneys are referred to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.