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Judicial Service in the District of Columbia Courts Frequently Asked Questions

How long do District of Columbia judges serve? 

Judges are appointed to either the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (“Superior Court”) or the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (“Court of Appeals”) for an initial term of fifteen years.  At the end of this term, judges may apply and be reappointed to successive terms.  The Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure (CJDT) evaluates judges seeking reappointment.  Judges may retire at any age after ten years of service, and are eligible for retirement benefits based on a combination of age and years of service.  All judges must retire from active service by age 74, but may apply for appointment as a senior judge.

How are District of Columbia judges reappointed? 

Judges who have served a full term, and have not reached the mandatory retirement age, may apply for reappointment to a full term.  The CJDT evaluates all judges seeking reappointment, and makes recommendations to the President.  Senate confirmation of reappointment is not required if the CJDT determines the judge to be well-qualified for reappointment.  A judge retired for reasons other than disability may apply for appointment as a senior judge.  The CJDT also evaluates all judges seeking senior status, and makes recommendations to the appropriate Chief Judge.  Senior judges are evaluated for reappointment every four years until age 74, at which point they are evaluated every two years.

How are judges assigned to cases? 

The Court of Appeals is the highest court of the District of Columbia.  Its judges review all final orders and judgments from Superior Court, and orders and decisions of District of Columbia governmental administrative agencies, boards, and commissions.  Cases before the Court of Appeals are decided by randomly selected three-judge panels, unless the court has agreed to hear a matter en banc.  Superior Court is a court of general jurisdiction, with its judges presiding over cases spanning the full range of civil and criminal matters.  Superior Court is divided by subject matter into the Civil Division, Criminal Division, Family Court, Probate Division, Tax Division, and the Domestic Violence Unit.  The Chief Judge assigns each Associate Judge to a division, and there is some rotation in assignments within the divisions as determined by the Chief Judge.  Associate Judges are expected to willingly serve in each of the Divisions of the Court.

What is the compensation provided to District of Columbia judges?

Salaries for judges of the District of Columbia courts are identical to those of federal judges.  Information about federal judicial salaries is available here:  http://www.uscourts.gov/judges-judgeships/judicial-compensation.  The District of Columbia judges’ retirement plan is administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury.  Detailed information about the judicial retirement plan is at the U.S. Department of Treasury website:  http://www.treasury.gov/about/organizational-structure/offices/Mgt/Documents/PO84004_2014-03800%20File_R%20-%201.pdf

Are District of Columbia judges required to submit financial reports?

Yes.  By statute, judges of both courts are required to submit to the CJDT annual, detailed financial reports covering their own and their spouse’s income.  The reports are available for public inspection upon request.  The financial reporting requirements for judges and their spouses were changed and expanded for reports filed in or after 2017.   

Are District of Columbia judges subject to performance evaluations?

Yes.  In addition to the review undertaken by the CJDT described above, the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the DC Bar conducts performance evaluations.  The Committee solicits input only from attorneys who appeared before the judge being evaluated.  Judges are evaluated in their second, sixth, tenth, and thirteenth years of service.  Senior judges are evaluated in the second year of a four-year term, and once during a two-year term.  Judges receive copies of the evaluation results, and the Chief Judge of each court receives the results of the evaluations of all judges in his or her court.  In addition, the CJDT receives the evaluations of senior judges and of judges in their sixth, tenth, and thirteenth years of service.  

Are judges allowed to continue participating in personal, extrajudicial activities?

The Code of Judicial Conduct of the District of Columbia establishes standards for the ethical conduct of judges and judicial candidates.  Prospective judicial applicants should carefully review each of the Canons, which describe, among other items, the standards and limitations for participation in extrajudicial activities.  Applicants should particularly note that Canon 4, addressing political and campaign activity, expressly applies to judicial candidates.  The Code of Judicial Conduct is on the District of Columbia Courts’ website:  http://www.dccourts.gov/internet/documents/2012-Code-of-Judicial-Conduct.pdf