New disqualification and recusal standards, procedure urged
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.
The proposed rule changes come as a result of an 18-month long study of the Code of Judicial Conduct undertaken by a task force of judges and lawyers. In its petition, the TBA says one of the reasons for the new recusal and disqualification standards and procedures is the “explosion of contested, big money campaigns for judicial office.” The petition cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which found that huge contributions in a West Virginia Supreme Court case had raised questions regarding whether the participation of a judge violated the due process clause. Commenting on the proposed changes, TBA President Sam Elliott said:
“A key role of the Tennessee Bar Association is to continually consider and propose updates and improvements to the various rules that govern the practice of law in the state. The changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct proposed by the task force are the result of the outstanding work of lawyers and judges at the highest level of our profession, and will prove to be a clear guideline to our judges as they fulfill their essential function in our society. The TBA is grateful to those lawyers and judges on the task force who so generously gave their time and talents to this effort.”
The task force was chaired by prominent Chattanooga lawyer Max Bahner with Knoxville lawyer Sarah Sheppeard serving as the Reporter. The group is made up of 13 members with a majority of the panel being judges. The group used the 2007 American Bar Association Model Code of Judicial Conduct as a guide, which Task Force chair Bahner called the “most influential guide for such rules, subject to a states’ distinctive practices.” Twenty-two states have approved revisions as a result of the changes and twenty more have established committees or have published proposed revisions.
The 80- page proposal includes provisions that:
1. Provide greater guidance on judicial disqualification and recusal. Included are factors such as the levels of campaign support for the judge or the judge’s opponent, the timing of the support and independent expenditures.
2. Require compliance with new procedures for motions to determine incompetence, disqualification and recusal.
3. Consistent with recent constitutional decisions, significantly lessen the restrictions on campaign activities while making it clear that campaign committees and judges must fully comply with campaign finance disclosure statutes, and that such activities may lead to disqualification.
4. Include within the provisions related to judges’ families a person with whom another person maintains a household and an intimate relationship other than a person to whom he or she is legally married.
5. Clarify application of certain code provisions to senior judges, part-time judges, continuing part-time judges and temporary judges.
6. Clarify when judges may provide a reference or recommendation.
7. Clarify a judge’s responsibility to report violations of lawyer or judicial ethics.
8. Permit judges, spouses and guests to attend events associated with educational, civic, religious, fraternal and charitable organizations.
9. Limit participation in activities of organizations, which engage in political advocacy in limited subject areas or consistently for one side in lawsuits.
10. Emphasize that judges must perform their duties promptly, as well as competently, diligently and cooperatively.
If the court follows its usual practice in considering such recommendations, the proposal will be published for a period of time for public comment, followed by closer examination of any issues on which there is substantial disagreement.
ABOUT THE TENNESSEE BAR ASSOCIATION
The Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is the largest professional association in Tennessee with more than 11,000 members. Founded in 1881, the TBA provides opportunities for continuing legal education, professional development and public service. The Young Lawyers Division is comprised of association members age 36 and younger or within the first five years of practice regardless of age. The division is dedicated to helping new lawyers succeed in the profession through mentoring programs, continuing legal education and peer networking, as well as find fulfillment in the practice of law through pro bono legal work and public service projects.