Section II. General Provisions
Rule 15. Interim Suspension
- Criminal Prosecution. Without the necessity of commission action, the highest court may immediately place a judge on interim suspension upon notice of the filing of an indictment, information or complaint charging the judge with a "serious crime" under state or federal law.
- Definition of "Serious Crime." A "serious crime" is any felony or lesser crime that reflects adversely on the judge's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a judge in other respects, or any crime a necessary element of which, as determined by the statutory or common law definition of the crime, involves interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft or an attempt, conspiracy or solicitation of another to commit a "serious crime."
- Other Misconduct. Upon receipt of sufficient evidence demonstrating that a judge poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the public or to the administration of justice, the highest court may transfer the judge to incapacity inactive status or suspend the judge pending a final determination in any proceeding under these Rules.
- Motion for Reconsideration. A judge suspended or transferred to incapacity inactive status may apply to the highest court for reconsideration of the order.
- Effect on Commission Action. Interim suspension of a judge shall not preclude action by the commission on the same conduct that was the basis for the felony or misdemeanor charge. Acquittal, dismissal or conviction of the criminal charge shall not preclude proceedings by the commission on the conduct that was the basis for the charge.
The integrity of the judicial system demands prompt action whenever a judge has been formally charged with a serious crime. Consequently, the highest court should bypass the normal commission procedure and act directly to temporarily suspend the judge pending final determination of the charges.
Almost all cases in which a judge is charged with a felony will result in an interim suspension; however these rules give the highest court discretion to impose an interim suspension in all cases in order to preserve the independence of the judiciary. If suspension were mandatory, the highest court would be required to suspend a judge even if the court was convinced that the complaint against the judge was filed only for political reasons.
A judge charged with conduct that constitutes a felony in another jurisdiction but does not constitute a felony in the state in which the judge is serving should be subjected to interim suspension only if, upon petition by an investigative panel of the commission or the highest court or upon its own motion, the highest court determines that interim suspension is required.
In determining whether to proceed on a disciplinary complaint when criminal charges have been filed, disciplinary counsel and the commission should consider the effect that a disciplinary investigation might have on the criminal investigation. Where it is appropriate, disciplinary counsel should consult with the criminal prosecutor or law enforcement authority before proceeding.
If the judge is found not guilty or if the judge's conviction is reversed on appeal, the highest court should review the order of interim suspension and either continue it under Rule 15 or vacate it. An acquittal or dismissal does not preclude proceedings by the commission because the standard of proof for judicial discipline requires clear and convincing evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and because the alleged conduct may constitute grounds for misconduct under Rule 6.A but not be a violation of the criminal laws.
Certain misconduct poses such an immediate threat to the public or the administration of justice that the judge should be suspended from the bench immediately, pending a final determination of the ultimate discipline to be imposed. Interim suspension is also appropriate when the judge's continuing conduct is causing or is likely to cause serious harm to the administration of justice.
In such cases, it may be necessary for the highest court to impose an interim suspension or transfer to incapacity status to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. See Rule 26 regarding cases in which a member of the highest court is charged with a crime.
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