The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a comprehensive revision to the Code of Judicial Conduct, which sets forth the ethics rules for Tennessee judges. The new Code of Judicial Conduct, which is Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10, will take effect on July 1, 2012.
Among the principal changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct is the addition of a new procedure for pursuing the recusal of a judge, along with a new process for seeking an expedited appeal if a motion for recusal is denied.
Under the new recusal procedure, judges will be required to provide, in writing, grounds for denying any motion for recusal. And, in cases where the recusal is granted, the rule outlines the process for designating a new judge in the case.
In the new rule, the Court also establishes the process for seeking an expedited appeal should a motion for recusal be denied. Should a judge deny a motion for recusal, an accelerated appeal may be filed with the appropriate appellate court within 15 days of the judge’s ruling. The appellate court will then make a decision on an expedited basis.
The Supreme Court also eliminated the ability for judges to make contributions to political campaigns or political organizations. However, the rule allows judges to purchase tickets to attend campaign events.
In following the American Bar Association’s model rules of judicial conduct, the Court adopted a new provision regarding the disability and impairment of a judge or attorney. The new rule instructs judges to take “appropriate action”, such as referral to a lawyer or judicial assistance program, should a judge have reasonable belief that another judge or attorney is impaired by drugs, alcohol or other physical, mental or emotional condition.
“Maintaining a high standard of judicial ethics is paramount to the public’s trust and confidence in the courts and the judges who preside over them,” said Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark. “We believe these changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct will provide Tennessee judges with greater guidance for conducting the business of the courts in a fair, impartial and ethical manner.”
The new Code of Judicial Conduct was adopted as a result of a petition filed by the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) to make changes to the current ethics rules. The TBA’s proposed rule changes were developed by a 13-member task force of attorneys and judges.
The Supreme Court filed the TBA’s proposed rules for public comment in March. Following the public comment period, the Supreme Court held oral arguments in December to discuss some of the issues in the TBA’s proposed rule.