Major Revision Of The Court Governing Judicial Ethics To Take Effect July 1
Friday, June 29, 2012
Legislation sponsored by Senator Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill) that dissolves Tennessee’s Court of the Judiciary and replaces it with the Board of Judicial Conduct will become effective on July 1 as a host of bills are enacted on Sunday. The Court of the Judiciary was created by the legislature to investigate and, when warranted, act on complaints against judges. The action to reconstitute the body comes after the Court of the Judiciary received criticism for ineffectiveness in disciplining judges and for secrecy in its proceedings.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has already adopted new ethics rules for state judges in preparation for enactment of the new law. The new ethics rules include a procedure for pursuing the recusal of a judge and a new process for getting an expedited appeal if a motion for recusal is denied.
“One of the most frequent concerns was that judges did not recuse themselves from hearing a case where there was a conflict of interest or possible bias against one of the parties,” said Senator Faulk. “I am pleased to see that our new law is already working to address this matter and congratulate the Court for taking quick action to adopt these new ethics rules.”
Another rule adopted by the Court deals with the disability and impairment of a judge or attorney. The rule instructs judges to take appropriate action if they believe another judge or attorney is impaired by drugs, alcohol or other physical, mental or emotional condition. The action comes after a Knoxville judge resigned when it was revealed he was addicted to prescription painkillers purchased illegally.
The new Board of Judicial Conduct consists of 16 members that will serve for a term of three years and be eligible for reappointment to one additional term. This new law requires the board, on a quarterly basis, to file a report with the chairs of the judiciary committees of each house detailing at least the number of complaints against judges filed during the previous quarter and the disposition of each complaint. It also changes the burden of proof to investigate a judge to probable cause that misconduct occurred instead of substantial likelihood that it did and revises other provisions regarding complaints against judges.
“The new law aims to provide transparency and fairness to both complainants and judges,” added Faulk. “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.”