New rules update campaign and recusal policies for state’s judges
NASHVILLE, Jan. 4, 2012 — The Tennessee Supreme Court today adopted the first comprehensive rewrite of the rules governing judicial conduct in more than 20 years. The rules changes, effective July 1, come as a result of a two and a half-year process initiated by the Tennessee Bar Association including a public comment period and hearing.
"The Court has demonstrated it will do what is necessary to maintain public trust and confidence in our justice system. The new rules offer a comprehensive, clear, workable way to ensure that judges are fair and impartial," said TBA President Danny Van Horn, of Memphis. "The new rules also do much to assure that campaign contributions and partisan politics play no role in Tennessee courts as they dispense justice."
One of the major new emphases of the proposal as adopted by the Court is giving better guidance on when a judge should recuse him or herself or be disqualified from hearing a matter. The rules not only address substantive standards for recusal, including the amount of support a judge or the judge's opponent might receive during a campaign, but also establish a procedure for independent, expedited review of judges' decisions on recusal and disqualification.
For the TBA, the Court's adoption of the rules marks a culmination of an almost two and a half-year process led by Chattanooga lawyer Max Bahner with Knoxville lawyer Sarah Sheppeard serving as Reporter. The TBA Task Force, made up principally of judges and leading ethics lawyers appointed by then TBA President Gail Vaughn Ashworth, undertook the first comprehensive examination of the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct since it was adopted in 1990. Much of the work of the group was based on the American Bar Association's 2007 revisions to the Model Code of Judicial Conduct.
The TBA will provide its members more details and analysis of the new rules this afternoon.