Republicans push bill to allow legislature to discipline judges

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 3:09pm

The Republican-run legislature would seize control of Tennessee’s system for disciplining judges under a bill the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted Tuesday.

Social conservatives are backing the legislation as one way to help reign in what they see as a liberal judiciary in Tennessee.

“I feel strongly about it. We need some accountability,” said the committee’s chair, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet.

A special legislative committee held hearings last year into the Court of the Judiciary, which decides whether to discipline judges for ethical misconduct and other breaches of the public trust. Of the hundreds of annual complaints lodged against judges, 90 percent are dismissed, the committee learned. Proceedings are secret, and nearly all reprimands are not made public.

The state Supreme Court now appoints 10 of the Court of the Judiciary’s 16 members. The Tennessee Bar Association names three, and the governor and speakers of the state House and Senate each appoint one member.

Under Beavers’ bill, the House and Senate speakers would appoint all the members. The committee voted 6-3 for the bill.

Libby Sykes, director of the state court system, asked the committee to postpone any action for a year to give the Supreme Court time to overhaul the judicial code of conduct. The justices now are taking comments from the state’s courts on proposed revisions in the code.

Tennessee Bar Association Executive Director Allan Ramsaur argued the legislature would trample on the authority of the judicial branch by taking control of the Court of the Judiciary.

“The General Assembly doesn’t have oversight responsibility for a co-equal branch of government. This is not just another agency,” he said. “The question of discipline of judges is certainly one which falls within the jurisdiction of the court.”

9 Comments on this post:

By: shrum2003 on 5/17/11 at 2:29

james c shrum: You have got to be kidding me to even being condsidering this bill to let the legisture disipline Judges . Of all the most dam bigots in the world why would the legisture think they are in any way qualityed to discipline a Judge . I have never heard of such of an out landish bill in my life . Their is not a politisian a live that is quilityed to discilipine anyone not even their own . a politisan is the low end of the totem pole when it comes to ettitcs . they could not discispline the devel.We see and hear every day where a politician has got into something or is guility of Adultery or somekind of misconduct . Now they what to discispline Judges . I have never heard of such stupid suggestion . Mae Beavers should be ashamed of her self to even think that she would be even close to the same stature of a Judge. The General Assembly is in no way even equal to the rank of a Judge not even the Govenor . we no how crooked they can be so what right do they have to even try to Discispline a Judge. there is no right . Let the Bar association take care of discisplineing a Judge not a politisian.

By: ccoburn on 5/17/11 at 2:53

Secret tribunals in which members of the elite judge themselves have no place in a free and open society. It is well past time to take the discipline of the judges out of the hands of the judges and return it to the people. They are, after all, servants of the people.

This is a long overdue reform. The fact that over 90 percent of the complaints are summarily dismissed by the current disciplinary body shows what an utter sham the current system is. The judiciary has proven just how incapable they are to discipline their own members.

By: pswindle on 5/17/11 at 3:04

Good God! What are these Legislators going to do next? TN has become an embarrassmnt anyway you take it. What a waste of misplaced power.

By: localboy on 5/17/11 at 3:47


By: govskeptic on 5/18/11 at 6:35

Long, long, overdue. The current discipline board is more interested in keeping
all problems in secret and making sure the voting public has no information on
these candidates is extremely problematic! We are expected to vote up or down
on these members at election time, but heaven forbid we know anything other
than their name! Very silly process.

By: girliegirl on 5/18/11 at 6:42

I'm with govskeptic on this topic. We know NOTHING about these candidates other than they passed the Bar exam. David Torrence showed us just last night that there has to some accountability to the voters.

By: courtwatch on 5/18/11 at 1:07

power to impeach,no power to discipline? hope it never comes to that.just look at some of the"punishments" meted out and permission to keep law liscene,if running vs. incumbent not to say any thing ugly,true or not.boy have they got a good thing going

By: not_guilty on 5/18/11 at 6:23

I have not read the bill, but I suspect that allowing the legislature to discipline judges (other than by impeachment) would likely violate Article II, Sections 1 and 2 of the Constitution of Tennessee.

I would like to see the statutes that authorized a civil suit for attorney discipline re-enacted. These statutes were repealed in, in think, 2002. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Board of Professional Responsibility is about as useful as teats on a boar. (As in, dumb as a box of rocks.)

I once sued seeking disbarment of an East Tennessee circuit court judge based on his giving demonstrably false testimony as a witness in a lawsuit. That judge died while his motion to dismiss my suit was pending. I joked with my client that the matter had been remanded to a lower court.

Reinstating the process of discipline by civil suit would leave trial court judges in charge of presiding over the suit, subject to the ordinary process of appellate review--thus avoiding separation of powers problems--but would allow the aggrieved party an opportunity to present evidence of misconduct in a setting which is subject to public scrutiny. As Louis Brandies observed, sunlight is the most powerful of all disinfectants.

By: easttennthinker on 9/23/11 at 4:32

Has anyone stopped to ask why 90% of the cases reported to the judiciary board are dismissed? I bet that if you ask you will find that it is because for reasons that do not fall under the responsibilities of the judiciary board. If I have a court case and I do not like the decision in my case and I file a complaint with the JB it will be dismissed as it should be. They are not there to act as an appeals court. Many of the complaints are not ethics violations and therefore not actions that should be investigated by the JD. Now as for the secrecy, if you were accused of sexual misconduct with a minor would you want your name released in the paper before an investigation was done to see if there was in fact some evidence of wrongdoing. You know that once a name is out there with an allegation their reputation is ruined. I believe that our founding fathers put the judiciary system seperate from the governmental system for a reason. No one branch should have absolute power. I believe that the saying goes "absolute power corupts absolutely." Is that what we want? Let the Judiciary Board do their job. They are needed.