Judge Conduct Committee investigation process and some common myths


Written by Johanna Virtanen
Level 3, Finland

Written by Johanna Virtanen
Level 3, Finland

As I write this, I have less than three months left in my term as Judge Conduct Committee Lead. During these two years, I’ve often wished I had more time for educational efforts and communication, rather than just the business of the committee.

This is an attempt to share some thoughts on the work of the JCC and perhaps dispel some of the myths about it.


How does the process work?
Through the Judge Feedback Form and other channels, we get a lot of reports about judge behavior. Most of this is actually positive – players or TOs saying thank you for a job well done. Most of the rest are minor complaints about things that are “performance” issues rather than conduct issues. Sometimes judges make bad rulings, deliver a correct ruling in an unfriendly manner, or say stupid things on social media. These are often worth passing on to their RC or mentor, but don’t require the Judge Conduct Committee’s attention. The judge could have done something better, but there is no reason to believe they were malicious, nobody’s safety or comfort was seriously compromised, and no real damage was done to an event or the program.

However, in a small minority of cases, there is potential for real damage. Those are the cases the JCC will investigate. Usually, the committee lead (or another committee member) will conduct a preliminary investigation. This involves contacting the involved parties and witnesses for more information, and asking the subject for a statement. The goal is to confirm the information in the initial report, and give the subject a chance to provide their side of the story. Sometimes the investigation ends during this process – the report turns out to be incorrect or the issue is less serious than it seemed. Sometimes there is not enough evidence to proceed. This doesn’t mean that we’ll stop if the accuser refuses to respond – if we have enough information, we’ll proceed anyway.

Once enough information is available, the lead investigator will present the case to the committee for discussion. The discussion may take several weeks, and sometimes more information is needed from the subject or other witnesses. Once the committee members are satisfied with the amount of information they have, they vote on a resolution based on a set of guidelines. The result is then communicated to the Regional Coordinators and the Program Coordinators, who have a chance to ask questions about the case before the decision becomes final. After that, the decision is communicated to the subject and other involved parties.

Possible resolutions include:

  • Warning Letter
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Demotion
  • Decertification
  • No Action.

What sort of cases have we handled?
There are three major categories that seem to come up more often than any of the others mentioned in the Code of Conduct.

Violations of Event Integrity
Technically, VEI covers a lot of ground. Any violation of tournament rules/policy by a judge belongs in this category, including getting caught cheating while playing in a tournament. Indeed, most of the VEI cases we see are probably about cheating as a player, and these are very straightforward: If you are not allowed to play in tournaments, you are not allowed to serve as a judge.

Another relatively common type of VEI involves tournament fraud. Sometimes stores don’t get enough players for their events, and it can be very tempting for the tournament organizer to add an extra player to their PPTQ so that he can make 7 customers happy. This kind of situation can be very awkward for a judge, because there is pressure from the TO, and the player community as well. However, it is illegal and WotC will usually invalidate the event if they find out about the “ghost” player. Judges should educate their TOs about this, and encourage them to contact their WPN representative before trying to get around the 8 player requirement for sanctioned events.

Sometimes the judge is the “ghost”: a tournament organizer needs a L2 for their PPTQ, but there isn’t one available for whatever reason. They decide to just add some local L2’s name to the event and hope nobody will notice or complain. Obviously, the judge doesn’t get punished if they didn’t know about it, but knowing about it and allowing it to happen is considered misconduct. If an event is left without a HJ because of a last minute cancellation, the TO should be put in touch with the Regional Coordinator to discuss their options.

Unfortunately, we have seen quite a few cases of theft. Store owners and tournament organizers trust judges to handle product that is worth a lot of money, and we often have access to store areas that customers are not allowed to enter. Judges often get handed deckboxes, playmats, bags and other items that players have left behind so that we can put them in the lost and found box – and players trust that when they hand over their tournament decks worth hundreds of dollars for a deck check, we’ll bring back every card. Taking something that is not yours is a huge violation of that trust, and punishment for theft is necessarily harsh.

Diplomacy failure
Significant Diplomacy Failure is the trickiest category in the Code and our Guidelines. It is defined as failing to demonstrate appropriate diplomacy towards others, or doing something that could be reasonably expected to cause distress to another person. The evidence is often subjective and it may be hard to determine intent. These types of cases are never pleasant to investigate. Punishment varies based on the severity of the diplomacy failure. Examples can include verbal aggression towards other judges or players during an event, or insulting another judge on an official forum.

I have encountered a few misconceptions about the JCC process, and I will try to clarify some of these issues.

“If I report someone to the JCC, I will be seen as a troublemaker”

This is probably partly true – there is always a chance that someone who does not like the end result of an investigation will find out who reported the problem and retaliate in some way. However, we do try to protect the privacy of everyone involved, and retaliation is considered misconduct in itself.

In some cases it’s necessary to share the identity of the accuser or victim with the accused, because otherwise the accuser cannot reasonably defend themselves. If you’re being accused of physical assault, you will usually be able to figure out who the victim is. In other cases it may be possible to keep the accuser anonymous, and we will do so if requested.

When case details are shared with RCs and the PCs, it is possible to make the victim/accuser/other witnesses anonymous. Details of cases are never shared in public. When it’s necessary to inform tournament organizers about a suspension or a decertification, we give them brief details of the offense committed by the judge, but nothing else.

Details of minor cases that are not handled by the full committee are not shared with the RCs or the PCs. Those are shared only according to the permissions given by the person who sent the feedback or report. If you report a minor incident, we will share exactly the details you want to share, with the people you want them shared with.

“I am going to get reported simply for talking to a girl”

This is an actual concern that has been reported to me: that male judges are worried about even speaking to female judges because they might get reported to the JCC for saying something inappropriate.

These people are obviously not worried that the JCC will swoop on them if they ask a female colleague to post some pairings. They’re probably worried about getting accused of sexual harassment for making a joke or expressing romantic interest in a colleague. We don’t want to ban jokes or stop you from asking someone on a date, but it’s important to listen to the other person and stop if they are uncomfortable or uninterested. If you want to ask someone out, it’s probably best to do it when you’re not both working in a tournament, and inappropriate jokes can be like slow play – if you’re not sure if it’s inappropriate, it probably is.

On the other hand, it has been reported to me that some female judges are afraid to report things that actually made them uncomfortable, because they fear the punishment will be too harsh and they will be seen as the bad person by the community.

The JCC investigations are not automated processes that always end in harsh punishments. Many cases are simply forwarded to the RC, so that they can educate the judge. Some cases result in a warning letter that explains the problem and suggests a way forward. It’s also important to remember that the JCC is not the only defense against inappropriate behavior. The whole community is responsible for creating an environment that is safe and welcoming. Sometimes the local senior judges are the best people to resolve an uncomfortable situation and correct the inappropriate behavior. The JCC exists to deal with situations where harsh punishment is actually needed or where local help is unavailable.

“I reported something but never heard back, nobody cares”

We get a lot of reports. JCC members are volunteers, and following up on everything could easily be a full-time job. We have to prioritize the most serious cases. I know we could do a better job of responding to reports, and I have some improvements underway to make that easier in the coming months and during the 2018 term. If you reported something that feels like a serious issue and did not hear back within a reasonable time, it’s not a bad idea to send an e-mail to the JCC lead (you can do so through JudgeApps) or ask your Regional Coordinator to find out what’s going on.

Finally, here is an announcement about the updated version of the judge feedback form.

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