News

Report: Special Interest Money Increasing in Judicial Elections

Spending by special interest groups continues to rise in judicial elections, accounting for 27 percent of all the money spent on the races in 2011 and 2012, according to a new report by a Justice at Stake partner organization. This is a sharp increase from the 16 percent seen in the 2003 and 2004 elections, which held the previous high in outside spending. The report has detailed information about judges who raised the most money and donors who gave the most, and it also identifies funding trends. As an example, the report says that during his campaign for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012, Roy Moore raised more out-of-state money than any other appeals court judge running in the country. Moore’s campaign took in $265,440 — or 41 percent of his total campaign contributions — from donors in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Australia and Canada. Gavel Grab has more.

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NC Supreme Court Candidates Face Difficulties in Campaigns

Judges vying for North Carolina’s State Supreme Court face difficult and expensive challenges on the campaign trail ever since the state did away with public financing for judicial candidates last year, Gavel Grab reports. Judicial candidates can’t make promises or use traditional campaign tactics when trying to define their candidacies, which leads to an "awkward world of judges stumping for votes and money." North Carolina Supreme Court justice Cheri Beasley says the $1.2 to $2 million her consultants say she needs to raise for her reelection bid is outrageous. “We want judges that are focusing on doing their jobs and not focusing on being politicians,” she said.

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Elected Judge Says He'd Prefer to End Judicial Elections

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet, a successful vote-getter who knows how to win judicial elections, says he finds these contests “toxic to the idea of an impartial, independent judiciary,” Gavel Grab reports. The judge disclosed his desire to bid judicial elections farewell, stating, “I’d be shocked if people didn’t look askance at such a flawed system. I do, too, having had close-up experience spanning several contested statewide races. Nothing would please me, or my wife, more than if my last election were my last election, and between now and 2018, Texans would opt for a smarter system. Hopeful? Yep. Optimistic? Nope.”

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Kansas, Penn. Consider How They Choose Judges

The Kansas Senate plans to vote next week on a proposed constitutional amendment to end the state’s merit-based system for selecting Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court judges, according to Gavelgrab.com and the election debate is heating up in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers in that state have previously tried and failed to amend the state’s system of judicial elections. Now, with suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin facing trial for corruption charges, legislators are again proposing to stop electing judges.

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Opinion: Merit Selection Keeps Judges Out of Politics

The Center for American Progress Action Fund released its third report in a series focusing on different policies intended to mitigate the influence of corporate campaign cash in judicial elections and improve access to justice. The nonpartisan education and advocacy organization talks about the benefit of judicial merit selection and retention elections.

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Board of Judicial Conduct Defines Role

Circuit Court Judge Michael Sharp explained the role of the Board of Judicial Conduct to the Bradley County Bar Association this week, the Cleveland Daily Banner reports. In July the General Assembly created the board to replace the Court of the Judiciary in handling complaints against Tennessee judges. “There have been several complaints that went unanswered from the public’s perspective.” Sharp said. “Legislators began to look into that and decided there had to be more transparency.”

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Comments Sought on Judicial Disqualification Rules

The ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independence met during the annual meeting in Chicago last week and issued a draft of revised judicial disqualification rules designed to deal with the influx of cash into judicial races. Sept. 15 is the deadline for comments on the draft revisions. Learn more from the ABA Journal

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Study: Elected Judges More Likely for Discipline Than Appointed

A California study shows that judges who are first elected are more likely to be disciplined than initially appointed judges. Other findings of the report from the state Commission on Judicial Performance said that judges previously sanctioned by the commission made up a large share of disciplined judges; male judges were about twice as likely to be disciplined as female judges; and judges on small courts were more frequently sanctioned than judges on larger courts. ABAJournal.com has the details

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Editorial Praises New Judicial Conduct Rules

The Mountain Press gives a thumbs up to the Tennessee Supreme Court in an editorial, calling the new Code of Judicial Conduct significant, important and overdue.

12 New Charges Added to Hawkins County Judge

Former Hawkins County judge James "Jay" Taylor was served Monday with 12 new theft-related charges, bringing the total charges against him to 53. Last week he was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury on 41 counts of theft related to fraudulent payment claims he made to the state while serving as judge. These new charges handed down by the Hawkins County Grand Jury are related to alleged thefts that occurred in his private practice. Taylor, 41, of Rogersville, remains held in the Davidson County Jail on $175,000 bond. The Times News has details

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Court of the Judiciary Compromise in the Works

Lawmakers are coalescing around a compromise amendment that would eliminate the Court of the Judiciary and replace it with a new “Board of Judicial Conduct” to investigate ethical complaints against judges and determine discipline,  The Tennessean reports. The proposal would continue to allow judges to be punished privately in some circumstances, but it would lower the bar for when the investigation of a judge is appropriate. It also would maintain the current membership breakdown of 10 judges and six non-judges, but would remove all appointment power from the Tennessee Supreme Court. Instead, it would vest that power in the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the House and Senate speakers. Learn more in The Tennessean

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Justices Reject Formal Ethics Rules

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected congressional calls for justices to adhere officially to the same ethics rules binding on other federal judges, including when to recuse themselves in cases involving possible conflicts of interest. "The Court does not plan to adopt the Code of Conduct for United States Judges through a formal resolution," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a letter released Tuesday to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT. But Roberts said he and his eight colleagues would -- on their own initiative -- continue to follow the same rules as other judges when it comes to accepting and reporting on outside income, honoraria and gifts. CNN has more

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Court Holds 'Discussion' on Judicial Conduct, Recusal Proposals

The Tennessee Supreme Court today (Dec. 2) devoted more than three and a half hours to what the court characterized as a "discussion" of the Tennessee Bar Association's petition to update the state's Code of Judicial Conduct and adopt new procedural rules to address disqualification of judges. TBA Task Force Reporter Sarah Sheppeard (left) joined  Task Force Chair and Chattanooga attorney Max Bahner and judges Walter Kurtz and Angelita Blackshear Dalton from Nashville in appearing before the court.

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Proposed revisions to the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct

NASHVILLE, Feb. 25, 2011 -- New stricter standards and procedures for determining disqualification and recusal of judges, changes in restrictions on campaign activities by judges, and a new prohibition on judges presiding over cases in which they participate in judicial settlement conferences are among the changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct being recommended in a petition filed with the Tennessee Supreme Court today by the Tennessee Bar Association.

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Proposed Judicial Conduct Rules Released for Comment

Proposed new judicial conduct rules with accompanying changes in procedural rules and statutes were approved for release by the Tennessee Bar Association Board of Governors on Saturday. The proposal -- the first comprehensive review of the Rules of Judicial Conduct and related provisions since 1990 -- was developed by the Task Force on Judicial Conduct Rules, chaired by Max Bahner with Sarah Sheppeard as reporter.

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Group to consider updates to judicial conduct rules

TBA President Gail Vaughn Ashworth has appointed a task force to study Tennessee's judicial ethics rules and consider whether revisions are needed. The Task Force on Judicial Conduct Rules will be chaired by Chattanooga lawyer T. Maxfield Bahner. Other members are reporter Sarah Y. Sheppeard, Albert C. Harvey, Buck Lewis, Barbara Mendel Mayden, Lucian Pera, and judges Jerri S. Bryant, Angelita Dalton, Thomas R. Frierson II, Alan E. Glenn, Walter C. Kurtz, Joe G. Riley and Thomas G. Stovall. TBA staff members are Allan Ramsaur and Jenny Jones.

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