Groups approve of Tenn. SC's new ethics rules

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 9, 2012, 4:46pm

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Two nonpartisan groups are coming out in support of the Tennessee Supreme Court for adopting new ethics rules for its judges.

The Court announced Jan. 4 that it adopted a "comprehensive revision" to its Code of Judicial Conduct, which sets forth the ethics rules for state judges.

The new code, Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10, outlines recusal procedures, among other things. It will take effect July 1.

"The Tennessee Supreme Court should be applauded for taking this important step forward," Bert Brandenburg, executive director of the nonpartisan Justice at Stake Campaign, said in a statement Monday.

"Tennessee's new, forward-looking rules will help ensure public faith in the court system, and provide a model for the rest of the nation to follow."

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 spending on high court elections continues to skyrocket, judges and litigants need a clear way to address recusal questions related to campaign contributions," Maria da Silva, research associate at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement.

"Tennessee's new disqualification rules are a step in the right direction that will help shore up public confidence in the judiciary."

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

The provision 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.

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.

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center filed joint comments in support of the proposed changes.

Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for the Brennan Center, also presented oral arguments before the Court.

Justice at Stake describes itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign working to keep America's courts fair and impartial.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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