TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Daniel Van Horn on Jan 25, 2012

Journal Issue Date: Feb 2012

Journal Name: February 2012 - Vol. 48, No. 2

Our New Code of Judicial Conduct

This past month, the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted a new Code of Judicial Conduct. This new code marks the first time in more than 20 years that a new set of rules has been adopted to govern the conduct of judges and judicial candidates in Tennessee. The process that led to the adoption of this new code is in many ways the model for good self-regulation, cooperation between the bench and the bar, and our Supreme Court being responsive to the people of Tennessee.

This story begins more than two years ago when a new Model Code of Judicial Conduct was approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). Say what you will about the ABA, but it plays an invaluable role in developing model rules to govern the bench and the bar.  With the adoption of the new ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct and long before the West Virginia Massey Coal case was garnering national attention, a group of lawyers in Tennessee and judges from across Tennessee were hard at work fashioning  these new rules. The rules are part of the safeguard to ensure that Tennessee does not become a West Virginia, Ohio, Mississippi, or Alabama where there has in the past been the appearance that justice can be bought for the right price and by the right special interests.

Tennessee lawyers, the court and judges from across our state took on this task not because of a fear or concern that justice was for sale in Tennessee but because all understood that in order to be responsive to the needs of the people and to protect our justice system we needed to act before there was a problem.

Former TBA presidents Gail Vaughn Ashworth and Max Bahner were heavily involved in this work, as was Sarah Sheppeard. A host of others helped along the way, including the usual cast of ethics experts that keep Tennessee on the leading edge of good self-regulation and ethical standards. This group worked for countless hours for years to carefully consider and balance the needs of a fair, impartial and responsive justice system. This work was done in cooperation with countless judges and our own Supreme Court. We owe them all our thanks and our gratitude for a job extremely well done.

When the working group had a final draft to consider, the Tennessee Judicial Conference carefully considered the proposal. Tennesseans should be proud to know that our judges willingly supported new and tougher standards to govern their conduct from the bench.  The process included a comment and review period in which the public was given the opportunity to express its views on these new rules. In the end, our Tennessee Supreme Court acted as the leaders that they are and became one of only 10 states to move forward with judicial reform in the wake of the debacle that occurred in West Virginia.

The work that occurred on our new Code of Judicial Conduct is a shining example of a healthy relationship between bench and bar and a sure sign that our legal community is connected to the needs of the people of Tennessee and our justice system. I have always been proud to be a Tennessean and a Tennessee attorney. Our new code and the process that brought it about just further deepen my pride in our profession, and I hope it does the same for you.

Read more about the new Code of Judicial Conduct in News.

Danny Van Horn TBA President DANNY VAN HORN is a partner with Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC in Memphis.