New Judicial Accountability Law Takes Effect in Tennessee

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.
  • Ten judges sit on the old panel, called the Court of the Judiciary; the new board is to have 10 current or former judges. Statewide judicial conferences appoint four of the current or former jurists, and the House and Senate speakers pick two more, from a list of six candidates furnished by the Tennessee Judicial Conference.
  • Of the six non-judges on the panel, three shall be lawyers and three shall be non-lawyers.
  • The new board is to provide more reports to lawmakers than did the Court of the Judiciary, and the board will have a lower standard for conducting a full investigation.
Among the new rules adopted by the state Supreme Court is one that prohibits judges from hearing cases involving campaign supporters in which “the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” To learn more about the rule and praise for it by Justice at Stake, see Gavel Grab.

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