Tenn. SC adopts new ethics rules for judges

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 6, 2012, 12:28pm


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) - The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted new ethics rules for judges that specifically outline recusal procedures, among other things.

The Court announced Wednesday it has adopted a "comprehensive revision" to the Code of Judicial Conduct, which sets forth the ethics rules for state judges.

The new code, Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10, will take effect July 1.

The most notable changes to the code are a new procedure for pursuing the recusal of a judge and a new process for seeking an expedited appeal if a motion for recusal is denied.

Under the new code, judges will be required to provide, in writing, grounds for denying any motion for recusal.

Also, should a judge deny a motion for recusal, an accelerated appeal may be filed with the appropriate appellate court within 15 days of the judge's ruling. The appellate court will then make a decision on an expedited basis.

In those cases where a recusal is granted, Rule 10 also outlines the process for designating a new judge in the case.

In addition, the new code eliminates the ability for judges to make contributions to political campaigns or political organizations. However, it allows judges to purchase tickets to attend campaign events.

As part of the new code, the state's high court also adopted a new provision regarding the disability and impairment of a judge or attorney.

The rule instructs judges to take "appropriate action," such as referral to a lawyer or judicial assistance program, should a judge have reasonable belief that another judge or attorney is impaired by drugs, alcohol or another physical, mental or emotional condition.

"Maintaining a high standard of judicial ethics is paramount to the public's trust and confidence in the courts and the judges who preside over them," Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said in a statement.

"We believe these changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct will provide Tennessee judges with greater guidance for conducting the business of the courts in a fair, impartial and ethical manner."

The revisions were adopted as a result of a petition filed by the Tennessee Bar Association to make changes to the current ethics rules. The TBA's proposed rule changes were developed by a 13-member task force of attorneys and judges.

The Court filed the TBA's proposed rules for public comment in March. The Court then held oral arguments in December.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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