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Justice Bivins Calls for ‘Yes on 2’ at TN Farm Bureau Federation Conference

Press release from the Vote Yes on 2 Campaign; August 22, 2014:

Nashville, Tenn. – Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins, speaking at the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation Annual Presidents Conference on August 14, urged those in attendance to Vote YES on 2 when they go to polls this fall. The Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation is also urging the passage of Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 keeps the best parts of our current system by continuing to trust the Governor to appoint the most qualified persons as appellate judges, while adding a new layer of accountability by having our elected representatives in the legislature confirm or reject the Governor’s appointees. Most importantly, Amendment 2 protects the right of Tennesseans to vote to keep or fire the judges at the end of their respective terms.

Justice Bivins said Amendment 2 brings important new clarity and accountability to the process of selecting Tennessee’s Supreme Court and appellate court judges. But he warned that failure to pass Amendment 2 could open the door to costly statewide judicial races, full of negative advertising largely funded by out of state special interests.

“You got a taste in these past weeks with the negative advertisements and the mailers.” Justice Bivins said. “But you saw only the tip of the iceberg of what can happen.”

“Our Farm Bureau policy supports an independent and qualified judiciary,” said Lacy Upchurch, President of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. “Our grassroots members have directed us to work to ensure partisan politics and campaign fundraising do not influence the selection and retention of judges. We support the Yes on 2 efforts and believe passage will provide a judicial system of which we can all be proud.”

Amendment 2 enjoys strong support from a diverse and bipartisan group of top leaders from across the state, including Governor Bill Haslam, former Governor Phil Bredesen, former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, former Governor Winfield Dunn, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, large majorities in the State House and Senate, and many more.

Amendment 2 has also been endorsed by other leading organizations including the Tennessee Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, Fraternal Order of Police, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Business Roundtable.

Election Day is November 4, 2014, and early voting on the constitutional amendments begins October 15, 2014. For more information, visit VoteYes2.org.

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Haslam Names Holloway to Bivins’ Court of Criminal Appeals Seat

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 21, 2014:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Robert Lee Holloway Jr. of Columbia to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Middle Section.

Holloway, 62, replaces Judge Jeff Bivins, who was recently appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Holloway has been a Circuit Court judge for the 22nd Judicial District, which includes Giles, Lawrence, Maury and Wayne counties. He was appointed to that position in 1998 by Gov. Don Sundquist. He was elected in August 1998 and again in 2006.

“Tennesseans are fortunate to have Judge Holloway to step into this important role,” Haslam said. “He has distinguished himself both on the bench and in various ways in the community. This appointment will serve the Middle Section well.”

Holloway served as general counsel for Columbia Power and Water Systems from 1983-1998 and was general counsel and corporate secretary for Kwik Sak, Inc. from 1982-1995. He was a partner with Fleming, Holloway, Flynn and Sands from 1982-1998 and was with Lovell, Holloway and Sands from 1979-1982. He was law clerk for the Hon. James W. Parrott at the Eastern Section Court of Appeals 1978-1979.

“I am deeply honored by Governor Haslam’s appointment to the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Holloway said. “I look forward to working with the appellate judges on the court. I believe my 16 years as a Circuit Judge have prepared me for this new challenge. I will miss working with the judges, clerks, and attorneys in the 22nd Judicial District.”

Holloway received his law degree from the University of Tennessee in 1978 and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He attended Columbia Central High School. Holloway was president of the Tennessee Judicial Conference in 2012-2013.

He has been active in the Boy Scouts of America and is past president of the Columbia Kiwanis Club. His civic activities have included the United Way of Maury County, the Maury County YMCA, Maury County Public Education Foundation and Crime-Stoppers of Maury County.

Holloway and his wife, Molly, have five children and four grandchildren.

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Press Releases

New Haslam-Appointed State Supreme Court Justice Sworn In

Press release from the Administrative Office of Tennessee Courts; July 16, 2014:

It was a standing room only in the historic Franklin Theatre as state, county and judicial officials from across Tennessee gathered to honor Justice Jeff Bivins at his investiture July 16, 2014.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam performed the swearing in. Speakers included Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long, Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson, Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, and Sen. Jack Johnson of the 23rd District.

Franklin native and Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark welcomed Justice Bivins to the Court. The crowd also heard remarks from Judge Jeffrey Stewart of the 12th Judicial District, Judge J. Steven Stafford of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, and Judge John Everett Williams of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

Kimberly McCall performed the Star-Spangled Banner and Justice Bivins’ daughter Caroline sang God Bless America. Adam Grant of the Franklin Christian Church provided the invocation and Robin Smith of The Gate gave the benediction.

Here are photos from the event.

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Judges, Lawmakers Strike Deal on Ethics Board

Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed Tuesday to compromise legislation that would revamp the Court of the Judiciary, an ethical watchdog panel charged with probing and punishing judges accused of improper or unprofessional behavior.

Members of the committee found common ground on a list of provisions that will rename and reconstitute the makeup of the body with the intent of emboldening it to more aggressively investigate complaints against judges. The new board would also be required to report on its official inquiries to top House and Senate leaders.

“Nobody is completely happy, and nobody is completely miserable, and I hope that’s the situation we’ve arrived at,” Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, said just prior to the 8-0 judiciary committee vote on Senate Bill 2671.

The key change requires that the board hand the two General Assembly speakers a rundown of statistics on each judge reprimanded more than once. Information on “public reprimands” is already available, but “private reprimands” would be available only to the speakers.

“We’re very satisfied with that,” said Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins, who worked with the Legislature to broker the deal.

“We think that’s a fair balance because the Legislature has an obligation under their impeachment power to have notice of what’s going on,” he said.

Concern that the Court of the Judiciary lacks independence, transparency and resolve has existed for some time. In September Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers hosted a series of hearings examining purported flaws within the Court of the Judiciary. The key phrase lawmakers like Beavers have used to sum up what they see as the core dysfunction within the Court of the Judiciary is “judges judging judges.”

The Mt. Juliet Republican, who has been the driving force behind judicial ethics reform, offered little in the way of comment to the committee as the sponsor gave her credit for pushing the issue, saying only, “I think you can say I’ve been a lightening rod, and I feel it.”

Senate Bill 2671 would set up a new panel to review ethics complaints against judges, called the Board of Judicial Conduct. It would still be controlled by judges.

Ten current or former judges, appointed by various councils of judges, would sit on the panel. In addition, the governor and chamber speakers would each pick an attorney and a layperson to join the board, for a total of six non-judges.

The bill also requires a subcommittee within the panel to decide whether to trash a complaint or use it to launch an investigation. That group would be required to have at least one non-judge. Currently, the board’s disciplinary counsel decides whether a complaint has merit, not its members.

The last time bill sponsor Sen. Mike Faulk ran a similar measure in the committee, it stalled on a 3-3-3 tie.

Judges and reformers in the Legislature have argued over the bill. The latest reincarnation results from a compromise by the judges. Prior to adding the component sending information to the speakers, the measure faced criticism in the House where some lawmakers argued the new board still lacks public accountability and gives judges too much power to police their own. The House Judiciary Committee still approved the bill, advancing it to another committee.

If the plan passes, it would dissolve the current Court of the Judiciary on June 30 and launch the Board of Judicial Conduct July 1.

Faulk, R-Church Hill, said he expects the full Senate to consider the bill Monday. The House measure faces a vote in the Government Operations Committee Wednesday before it can proceed to the full chamber.

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Slow Deliberations on Judicial Reforms This Year

Legislators are grappling with a handful of bills that would reform how high-ranking judges are chosen to take the bench, who should police judges for ethics violations and how they should be punished.

“We feel like there are substantial changes that are taking place, as well as just paying more attention to the situation and being more attuned to it as well,” said Criminal Appeals Court Judge Jeff Bivins, who is now regularly on Capitol Hill talking with lawmakers about judicial ethics legislation. He also doubles as a member of the Court of the Judiciary, which polices unethical judges, and serves on the Tennessee Judicial Conference.

“It may well be that we’re back next year, asking the Legislature to fine-tune a few more areas that we find could be done better, and could instill more confidence in the system with the public,” he said.

Here’s a breakdown of the status of judicial reform bills:

Judges Judging Judges, SB2671/HB2935: After weeks of arguing and haggling over the makeup of a new board to replace the Court of the Judiciary, a watchdog for judicial ethics, the House has advanced a so-called compromise. It requires at least one non-judge and two other members to initially vet ethics complaints. But there’s pushback — the Senate Judiciary Committee shot down the last attempt at a compromise last month based on concern over of a lack of transparency of complaints against judges and what opponents call a high 10-6, judge to laypeople, ratio. The bill is up again in that committee Tuesday and in House Government Operations Wednesday.

Judicial Ethics Overhaul 1.0, SB1088/HB1198: Sen. Mae Beavers, the driving force behind injecting more accountability in the judicial ethics system, has a bill of her own to reconstitute the board policing judges. Her proposal made it to the Senate floor last year and never budged. Rep. Barrett Rich took the House version — assigning eight non-judges and four judges to the new board — off Judiciary Committee’s calendar last month and backed its competitor bill, HB2935 (above). But Beavers’ version is up on the Senate floor Thursday.

Public Official Punishments, SB2566/HB2763: Lawmakers want to ensure public officials found guilty of lower-level crimes committed in office are exempt from get-out-of-jail-free cards. The measure passed overwhelmingly in the Senate to bar officials with misdemeanor charges from being given judicial diversion, which clears the mishap from their record if they stay out of trouble. It’s much like a deal disgraced former Judge Richard Baumgartner struck last year for buying prescription pills from a parolee. The bill is stalled in the House, generally because bill sponsor, Rep. Ryan Haynes, has been wrapped up in other work, he says, but he adds he should be running the bill in the Judiciary subcommittee soon.

Legitimizing How Judges Are Picked: The governor along with the House and Senate speakers want the state’s guiding document changed to require the governor to pick judges from a list, with the judges later facing popular elections — as is done now. The Constitution calls for judges to face elections, but some say that means popular elections like the ones lawmakers face. Language is still in the works and should surface for a committee vote, spokespeople say, but it has no bill number. Even if the measure passes this year, it needs a two-thirds vote in the Legislature before going to the voters in 2014.

Electing Judges, SB127/HB173: Strict readers of the constitution say the state should still subject judges to old-fashioned elections in the 2014 election, even if Legislative leaders ultimately decide to constitutionalize the current appointment-based practice. Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, says he thinks it has a 50/50 chance of passing: “I just feel like the members of the Judiciary Committee are warming up to the fact of adhering to the strict reading of the Constitution.” He’s agreed to take the measure up at the last committee meeting, likely in early April.

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Liberty and Justice

Judicial Ethics Panel Makeup Debated

Judges and lawmakers agree the state’s system for policing judges is flawed, but there’s so far little agreement as to how much sway judges themselves should have over that watchdog role.

Lawmakers are considering two major bills this year to recreate a panel responsible for disciplining judges who cross ethical lines. The major difference between the two proposals is just how many judges can sit on the new panel — and both sides are so far unwilling to budge.

“The appearance of judges appointing judges to hear complaints on judges doesn’t give them much credibility,” said Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, a top critic of the current panel, the Court of the Judiciary.

Judges pitched their own reforms to a legislative committee in SB2671 Wednesday, suggesting the lawmakers replace the current ethics panel with a “Board of Judicial Conduct” that would shift responsibility for discarding complaints to board members rather than staff. The new board would also produce quarterly public reports instead of the current yearly statistics, establish a legislative liaison, and operate with a lower threshold for pursuing an investigation.

“Certainly there have been issues, and I think we’re trying to address those issues,” said Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins, who is leading the charge for the Tennessee Judicial Conference’s ad hoc committee on Court of the Judiciary legislation. “We have some new membership. I think some of us are looking harder at cases and taking a little tougher line.”

The biggest problem Beavers has with the judicial branch’s proposal is the new board would retain too many judges, 10, plus six laypeople.

Beavers would prefer her own bill, which would dump the current board and build it anew, shrinking the board down to 12 people, with four as sitting judges. Her measure is on the Senate floor and is up for debate Feb. 9.

“I think you’d actually find that every single judge in the state of Tennessee, from the part-time municipal judge all the way up through every member of the Supreme Court, are actually united totally against that particular bill,” said Bivins, who also sits on the COJ.

The Senate Government Operations Committee advanced the judges’ measure with a “positive” recommendation on a 5-1-3 vote with little discussion. It now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will likely face opposition from Beavers.

Beavers said she would also like the ethics panel to inform the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairpeople when the board has received multiple complaints about the same judge.