A recently passed law to abolish Tennessee’s judicial discipline commission and replace it with a new ethics body, and to reform the way that judges are held accountable, has taken effect.
The law creates a new Board of Judicial Conduct, replacing the Court of the Judiciary. The plan also seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch.
“The new law aims to provide transparency and fairness to both complainants and judges,” said state Sen. Mike Faulk, a Republican, according to a Chattanoogan article. “It also gives the Board a mechanism to use the new Rules of Judicial Conduct, which are nationally recognized as a model for other states, adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court.”
The also law makes these other changes (see Gavel Grab):
- All power to appoint members is removed from the Tennessee Supreme Court, which until now picked 10 of the 16 members. Read more
Compromise legislation to abolish Tennessee’s judicial discipline commission and replace it with a new ethics body, and to reform the way judges are held accountable, won legislative approval and was headed to the governor for his signature.
The plan seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch. Although it follows years of sometimes heated argument, according to a Knoxville News Sentinel article, the compromise that eventually was struck drew widespread support. It passed the state House on a vote of 88-5 this week.
Gavel Grab reported earlier on Tea Party conservatives’ push for Tennessee legislators to take control over naming members of the discipline commission, now called the Court of the Judiciary. The compromise version did not incorporate that idea. It makes these changes: Read more
A compromise plan to reform the way judges are held accountable in Tennessee won unanimous, 30-0 approval in the state Senate.
The compromise plan would replace the Court of the Judiciary, as the state’s judicial discipline commission is known, with a “judicial board of conduct.” The legislation seeks to increase legislative oversight of the judicial branch, according to a (Nashville) Tennesseean article. Tennessee’s judges had a voice in shaping the compromise.
Tennessee’s House has not yet voted on companion legislation. You can learn about other facets of the legislation, and its background, from Gavel Grab.
The legislation would replace the Court of the Judiciary, as the state’s judicial discipline commission is known, with a “judicial board of conduct,” according to a (Nashville) Tennessean article. You can learn about other facets of the legislation, and its background, from Gavel Grab.
Republican Sen. Mike Faulk said that despite its compromise nature, the bill would represent an improvement. “It solves a lot of problems,” he said.“The ends of justice are served.”
Many state judges support the bill, said Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins.
There is growing support in Tennessee’s legislature for a compromise plan to reform the way judges are held accountable, according to a (Nashville) Tennesseean article, and the state’s judges are said to agree to the compromise.
Gavel Grab has reported on Tea Party conservatives’ push for Tennessee legislators to take control over naming members of the discipline commission, called the Court of the Judiciary. The compromise version instead would make these changes:
- The Court of the Judiciary, as the state’s judicial discipline commission now is known, would be replaced by a new “board of judicial conduct.”
- All power to appoint members would be removed from the Tennessee Supreme Court, which now picks 10 of the 16 members. Read more
Tea party conservatives have pushed for Tennessee legislators to grab control over naming members of a judicial discipline commission, and legislators now are weighing two rival bills, one sponsored by a top critic of the panel and the other supported by judges.
The commission is called the Court of the Judiciary. It currently has 16 members, 10 of whom are judges — and most of the judges are Democrats, appointed by the state Supreme Court. The legislature is controlled by Republicans.
“The appearance of judges appointing judges to hear complaints on judges doesn’t give them much credibility,” said Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers, a Republican; her bill would get rid of the existing board and start over by cutting it to 12 members, including four sitting judges and one retiree. All members would be named by speakers of the House or Senate.
A reform bill pushed by judges would eliminate the Court of the Judiciary and set up in its place a “Board of Judicial Conduct,” still with 10 of its 16 members who are judges. The board would have a lower standard for conducting a full investigation; board members, not staff, would have responsibility for discarding complaints; and the board would issue public reports quarterly, according to a Tennessee Report article.
“Certainly there have been issues, and I think we’re trying to address those issues,” said Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins. “We have some new membership. I think some of us are looking harder at cases and taking a little tougher line.”
An intriguing drama is playing out in a Tennessee courthouse: A defense attorney and judge have swapped allegations of bias and misconduct, the lawyer plans to challenge the judge in a 2014 election and the judge has declined to step down from hearing a murder case where the lawyer represents the accused.
Rutherford County Circuit Judge Don Ash and attorney Joe Brandon Jr. are the legal figures featured in the center of a (Nashville) Tennesseean article entitled “Rutherford judge, lawyer may take battle from court to voting booth.”
Tennessee has a merit selection system for choosing all appellate court judges, and lower court judges including those on circuit courts are elected.
Tim Discenza, chief disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, the state’s judicial discipline commission, said a lawyer’s intention to run against a judge would not automatically the jurist from handling that attorney’s cases, particularly when an election is as distant as 2014.
Tennessee state Sen. Mae Beavers (photo) withdrew her bill to block judicial review of laws enacted by the legislature (see Gavel Grab), after it came under fire from both political parties.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, a Republican, was among outspoken critics of the proposal, according to an Associated Press article.
“That is crossing the line on separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches,” Ramsey said. “Because we make the law and they interpret the law. If you don’t like what they’re coming down with, then you do everything you can to change the court.”
Democratic Sen. Roy Herron, a lawyer, raised the specter of a threat to fair and impartial courts.
“Democracy is threatened by those who would take away the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “We ought to look very carefully before the politicians begin to take away the independence of the judiciary in Tennessee.”
In Tennessee’s Republican-controlled legislature, Beavers’ proposal was one of several measures proposed that would affect the courts. Another would revise the procedures for disciplining judges (see Gavel Grab), and a third would move gradually toward a constitutional amendment to settle legal questions about the way appeals judges are chosen (see Gavel Grab) through merit selection. Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey made a prediction about legislators overhauling the state’s judicial discipline commission. “I think we’ll reconstitute the Court of the Judiciary in some manner, working with the court when we can, to make sure they more accountable to us,” a Nashville Scene article quoted the Republican as saying.
- The Florida Supreme Court has asked the legislature to fund 72 more judgeships, but in austere budget times the request is unlikely to be met, according to an Associated Press article.
- Three people, including a local prosecutor, were injured when a defendant in a criminal trial opened fire in the Cook County courthouse in northern Minnesota, the Associated Press reported.
- The Supreme Court’s “momentous term” with three exceptionally high profile cases was the topic of a NPR “Talk of the Nation” report.
In the two disparate states of New Mexico and Tennessee, state legislators are seeking or weighing reform of the way judges are held accountable.
Republican Rep. Dennis Kintigh wrote a commentary in NMPolitics.net entitled, “It’s time for a review of how judges are held accountable.” In the wake of recent scandals and allegations, he suggested, ”I believe that now is the time for a serious review of how the judiciary and legal profession as a whole is held accountable. At this point, everything ultimately rests in the hands of five Supreme Court justices who are immune to, and independent of, meaningful outside accountability.”
Republican Rep. Eric Watson is co-chair of a joint committee that has held hearings about Tennessee’s Court of the Judiciary, a judicial discipline commission, and ways to improve its work and transparency (see Gavel Grab). Watson’s opinion column in The Chattanoogan recapped concerns raised before the panel.
“While the reporting [by COJ] has improved, much of the COJ’s work is still done secretly behind closed doors,” Watson wrote. He also pointed to questions about the composition of the 16-member commission and especially whether attorneys are well positioned to discipline judges.