Gavel Grab

Tennessee Legislature OK’s New Plan for Disciplining Judges

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:

  • The Court of the Judiciary 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.
  • Ten judges currently sit on the panel; the new board would have 10 current or former judges. Statewide judicial conferences would appoint four of the current or former jurists, and the House and Senate speakers would pick two more, from a list of six candidates furnished by the Tennessee Judicial Conference.
  • Of the six non-judges on the panel, three would be lawyers and three would be non-lawyers.
  • The new board would provide more reports to lawmakers than has the Court of the Judiciary, and the board would have a lower standard for conducting a full investigation.

“This will not be judges picking judges to judge judges,” said Sen. Mike Faulk, a Republican who sponsored the Senate bill.

During the deliberation that preceded crafting of the compromise bill, charges were aired that the  Court of the Judiciary ignored judicial misconduct and worked in unwarranted secrecy.

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