Each day judges make decisions that can positively or negatively affect an individuals life. Judges who work in civil courts make decisions that can cost one party money. Those who work in criminal courts can send individuals to jail, cost them their jobs, or negatively impact their day-to-day life. In most court cases, a judge must side with one party or the other. In short, there are many people who leave a court room angry with a judge, however, many often wonder whether they can sue a judge. If you feel a judge was bias during the course of a trial, you may be wondering if suing the judge is an option. The answer isn’t simple, in most cases, no judges can not be sued, but there are certain circumstances in which judges can be held responsible for unjust actions.
Can You Sue a Judge?
In most cases, no, you cannot sue a judge. Generally speaking, judges are protected by a doctrine called judicial immunity. Judicial immunity protects judges from being sued or held responsible for any judgments they make, or sentencing that they take part in. Judges can not be held responsible for anything that is said in court, regarding the defendant or prosecution during the course of a trial or court case. As long as the actions are within the scope of the judge’s duties he or she can not be sued, even if it is believed that the judged acted in a callous or malicious way.
Judicial immunity was developed for two specific reasons. First, judicial immunity was instated to ensure the judge acts in an unbiased and fair manner, without fear of legal action for his or her decisions. That is to say that the judge can make any decision he deems fair and just without worrying that a party who is negatively effected by the decision will retaliate. Secondly, judicial immunity is intended to ensure that the government worker, in this case, the judge, is not subjected to harassment and undue lawsuits for his or her decisions.
In What Circumstances Can You Sue a Judge?
While judicial immunity is binding, in most cases, there are instances in which judges have been sued by civilians for their actions. Judicial immunity does not extend to actions taken off the bench, or actions pertaining to a case that are not within the scope of the judge’s duties. Judicial immunity was amended in 1979, during a case in which a police officer argued a judge had made disparaging remarks to the media, harassed individuals who were willing to testify for the defendant, and threw parties for high ranking officials, all in an attempt to get the police officer removed from his post. Harris vs. Harvey was a landmark case, and ensured that civilians did have legal action against any judge who acted out of the scope of his or her responsibilities. In the Harris vs. Harvey case, it was ruled that the officers civil rights were violated.
If you believe your civil rights were violated and the judge acted out of the scope of his or her responsibilities you can sue them, however, the cases are notoriously difficult to win, and you must be able to prove the judge acted out of the scope of his responsibilities. Any judgment made within the scope of the judge’s job description, is still covered under judicial immunity. Judges can also be brought up on criminal charges if they have acted inappropriately. In order to sue a judge in a civil capacity, a complaint must first be filed.