News

Court Amends Judicial Recusal Rule

The Tennessee Supreme Court last week issued an order amending Rule 10B of its rules, which governs the procedures for seeking disqualification, recusal or a determination of constitutional or statutory incompetence of a judge, justice or other judicial officer. The adopted amendments were revised after a comment period to address concerns raised by the TBA about appellate courts' handling of motions for court review.

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Board of Judicial Conduct Reprimands Atherton

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct has publicly reprimanded Hamilton County Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton regarding an order he issued on Aug. 28 in a divorce case. Atherton initially denied a heterosexual couple’s request to divorce, saying it was up to the U.S. Supreme Court to define what was not a marriage after the Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage case. The Dec. 18 letter says that in a meeting with the Disciplinary Counsel, Atherton indicated that he may have been in error entering the Order and that the error “could have been misunderstood by the public as undermining its confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary…” 

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CBA Poll Results Praise Local Judges

Judges Don Poole, Barry Steelman and Tom Greenholtz received positive reviews from a recent Chattanooga Bar Association poll, the Times Free Press reports. CBA members rated each judge on their legal ability, good moral character, diligence and judicial temperament. Poole had the highest superior rating at 87 percent. 

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Candidates Announced in 19th Judicial Circuit Court Races

Five candidates filed petitions to run for the 19th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Part III, a position now vacant due to the Dec. 1 retirement of John Gasaway. The Republican candidates are Ted Crozier Jr., Roger Nell and Herb Patrick; the Montgomery County Republican Primary is scheduled for March 1. The winner of the Republican nomination will run against the independent candidates Merriel Bullock-Neal and John E. Finklea on Aug. 4. Jill Bartee Ayers and Robert T. Bateman are running for the Republican nomination in the 19th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Part IV race. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Ayers earlier this year to fill the newly created seat. The 19th Judicial Circuit encompasses both Montgomery and Robertson counties. Read more from The Leaf-Chronicle.

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Wicks Named Criminal Court Judge in 9th District

Jeffery H. Wicks of Rockwood was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam as Criminal Court Judge for the Ninth Judicial District, replacing Judge E. Eugene Eblen, who is retiring effective Dec. 31.The Ninth Judicial District serves Loudon, Meigs, Morgan and Roane counties. Wicks has served as General Sessions Court Judge in Roane County since 2006. “I promise to do my very best to uphold the high judicial standards set by Judge Eblen during his distinguished career as our criminal court judge,” Wicks said.

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Susano to Leave Post as Chief Judge of Court of Appeals

Judge Charles D. Susano Jr. announced that he will step down at the end of the year as Chief Judge of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, but said he will remain on the court. Susano, of Knoxville, has been chief judge since Jan. 1, 2013. He was first elected to the Court of Appeals in 1994. “I have enjoyed my time as chief judge,” Susano said. “But now is the time for someone else to assume the administrative functions of the court."

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Trial Rescheduled After Jurors Mistakenly Sent Home

The Chattanoogan reports a vehicular homicide trial in Chattanooga was rescheduled for this morning after three panels of jurors were mistakenly sent home on Tuesday. Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman apologized for the error. "I'm disappointed that we were not able to start today. The state was ready and the defense was ready. It's not anybody's fault in this court,” he said.

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Senate Judiciary to Meet This Month

The Senate Judiciary Study Committee Calendar for Oct. 19, 10 a.m., includes Criminal Justice Reform, Prosecutorial Discretion (Senate Bill 37) and Militarization of Law Enforcement (Senate Bill 887). View the calendar.

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Group Calls for Action Against General Sessions Judge

The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has filed a complaint with the Board of Judicial Conduct seeking sanctions against Nashville General Sessions Judge Allegra Walker, News Channel 5 reports. The issue arises from an e-mail Walker sent in June in which she told prosecutors what she won’t accept in her court pertaining to plea negotiations, such as agreed orders on domestics or multiple probation offers. TACDL argues the email reflects Walker’s bias against certain defendants, claiming the judge's actions could amount to "judicial interference."

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Apply for 30th Judicial District Chancellor Opening by May 26

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments is now accepting applications for the Chancery Court judge vacancy in the 30th Judicial District, Shelby County, which was created by the death of the Hon. Oscar Carr III. Applications are due by noon CDT May 26. All qualified applicants will be interviewed in Memphis June 17.

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Lawmakers to Review Judicial Evaluation Commission

Lawmakers Tuesday questioned whether the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) violates the Tennessee Constitution, the Tennessean reports. The House Government Operations Committee heard testimony from several people, including John Jay Hooker, who brought lawsuits against Gov. Bill Haslam, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell last year contesting the constitutionality of the JPEC and retention election statutes. After hearing the testimony, the committee sent the constitutionality question to the Joint Subcommittee of Government Operations, Judiciary and Government, which will meet this summer. Gavel Grab has more.

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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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Alaska Supreme Court Faces Possible Changes in Selection

The Alaska Supreme Court has come out against legislative efforts to change Alaska's judicial nomination process, Alaska Dispatch reports. But that political role for the justices has now drawn criticism, too, with one legislator saying he was "appalled" at the court's involvement in politics. Candidates for judicial appointments in Alaska currently are sent to the governor by the Judicial Council, a group made up of three lawyers appointed by the Alaska Bar and three citizen members appointed by the governor, along with the state's chief justice as the seventh member.

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Vandy Law Hosts 'Justice at Risk' Conference

Judicial selection and the role money plays in judicial elections will be the focus of a conference held at Vanderbilt Law School March 20-21. Titled “Justice at Risk: Research Opportunities and Policy Alternatives Regarding State Judicial Selection,” the conference will focus specifically on how the method of selecting state judges affects judicial decision making. It is jointly sponsored by the American Constitution Society, the American Judicature Society, and Vanderbilt Law.

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White House Touts Diversity in Judicial Nominations

President Barack Obama today nominated five lawyers for trial and appellate courts, including a state judge in Florida who would be the first openly gay male African-American on the federal bench. According to the National Law Journal, the White House is touting the nominations as part of Obama’s effort to expand the gender and racial diversity of the nation’s courts. The White House today published an updated graphic that spotlights Obama’s judicial nominations to date.

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New PAC to Educate Public on Judicial Issues

Tennesseans for Independent Courts, a new nonprofit political action committee, has announced it will educate the public on the “dangers of partisan political pressures on judicial elections and appointments.” The group, formed Jan. 10 by former personnel commissioner Randy Camp, who served in Gov. Phil Bredesen’s cabinet, will also provide support to judicial candidates who want to run for office without political affiliations, and back legislative and gubernatorial candidates who want the same. Camp states that the non-profit corporation has filed for 501 (c) designation with the IRS, and will be dedicated to informing, educating, engaging and involving the citizens of Tennessee in ensuring that the judicial branch of Tennessee’s government remains free and independent of partisan political pressures from any group or organization. KnoxBlogs has more.

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