State Supreme Court adopts new ethics rules, procedures on judge recusals

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 12:28pm
Staff reports

Following a petition from the state bar association, the Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a revised set of ethics rules for Tennessee judges, particularly involving their recusals.

Adopted revisions to the Code of Judicial Conduct, which is Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10, will take effect on July 1, according to a spokeswoman with the Administrative Office of the Courts. Among the principal changes to the code is the addition of a new procedure for pursuing the recusal of a judge as well as a new process for seeking an expedited appeal if a motion for recusal is denied.

It was a petition filed by the Tennessee Bar Association that prompted the process of adopting the new ethics code, and it was a 13-member task force of attorneys and judges that developed the bar associations proposed rule changes.

That led to the state Supreme Court filing the bar’s proposed rule changes for public comment in March, after which the court held oral arguments in December to discuss some of the issues in the TBA’s proposed rule.

Under the new procedures, if a judge denies a motion for recusal the judge must provide in writing the grounds for denying such motion. The new rules also outline the process in which a new judge is appointed when a recusal is granted.

Also, when a recusal is denied a new process has been established to expedite that appeal process, allowing an appeal to be filed within 15 days of the judge’s ruling.

The rules changes eliminate the ability for judges to make contributions to political campaigns or political organizations, but judges are allowed to purchase tickets to attend campaign events.

The court also adopted a new provision, modeled after American Bar Association rules, 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, if a judge suspects another judge or attorney is impaired by drugs, alcohol, or other physical, mental or emotional condition.

The new Code of Judicial Conduct, along with the TBA’s proposed amendments and comments from the public, are available online at

Rule 10 Order 1-04-12.pdf3.53 MB

3 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 1/4/12 at 1:17

After many many years of knowing these problems existed they did nothing!
Only after the absolutely disaster in Knoxville murder case as well as the
absolute miscarriage of Justice to the Lady in Memphis over her divorce and
child custody case do they act. Did they act because of these two cases? NO.
This action comes only after the Legislature started discussing the long
ignored Judicial Branch in this State with discussions to make changes.

The long tenure of this "Society of Privilege" that totally make their own
rules and protect their separate branch of government as the highest
and mightiest still needs more reform than these two bandages!

By: 1kenthomas on 1/5/12 at 2:56

Dear 'govskeptic,'

I guess I'm not as skeptic of government in general as I am of bad governance and systematic corruption. The question is, do these sorts of measures have teeth?

What matters is whether these procedures make a difference in actual practice. Reading over the above, it looks like they might.

I've certainly heard of court personnel driving judges to the bench because they couldn't drive themselves (under the influence), for instance. The rules above, could have some teeth in stopping that sort of thing, if there are penalties for counsel who don't report it. (Are there?)

It is not, of course, systematic and sweeping reform of the old-boy Tennessee judiciary. I doubt we're going to get that out of their old-boy friends in the Legislature-- which is too bad. We often ignore, how high a price Tennessee pays for having a Judiciary that approaches "Third World" standards.

By: jonw on 1/6/12 at 11:22


It appears that the foxes have adopted a few new rules, but they are still guarding the henhouse,