Compromise on Court of the Judiciary

Lawmakers are coalescing around a compromise amendment that would eliminate Tennessee’s judicial disciplinary panel — the Court of the Judiciary — and replace it with a new “board of judicial conduct” to investigate ethical complaints against judges and determine discipline.
More from The Tennessean story:
The proposal would continue to allow judges to be punished privately in some circumstances, but it would lower the bar for when the investigation of a judge is appropriate. The proposal also would remove all appointment power from the Tennessee Supreme Court, which currently picks 10 of the Court of the Judiciary’s 16 members.
Lawmakers and disgruntled litigants have grown dissatisfied with the Court of the Judiciary in recent years, saying that it dismisses too many complaints without investigating them, keeps too much of its work private and includes too many members who are judges. Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, largely has led the charge and proposed a drastic overhaul of the Court of the Judiciary last year.
Beavers’ proposal would have reduced the commission’s size to 12 members appointed by the speakers of the state House and Senate, and only five would have been judges. State judges balked, and were successful in getting the measure stalled.
(The) competing proposal, sponsored by Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, .. was developed in cooperation with state judges and has attracted far more sponsors, including Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey, the Republican speaker of the state Senate.
Faulk’s bill would have kept the composition of the court — 10 judges, three lawyers and three laypeople — the same but transferred appointment of the judges from the state Supreme Court to the statewide judicial conferences for state and local judges. It also would have lowered the threshold for when a judge should be investigated from when there is a “substantial probability” that an ethical violation has occurred to “probable cause.”
A compromise amendment to Faulk’s bill, drafted Friday, includes elements from both proposals and draws largely on an amendment to Beavers’ bill that already had been presented by Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett. Both Faulk and House Sponsor Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, said they expect the legislation to clear the House and Senate judiciary committees next week. Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins, said the state’s judges agree to the terms of the amendment.
There would still be 10 judges on the 16-member board, but the compromise would allow those judges to be “current or former” at the insistence of Beavers, who has said she is uncomfortable with sitting judges “judging judges.” Four current or former lower court judges would be appointed by the judicial conferences, while two current or former appellate judges would be selected by the House and Senate speakers from a list of six candidates submitted by the Tennessee Judicial Conference.
“That decision was made in large part because, since the Supreme Court does ultimately review disciplinary action taken by the Court of the Judiciary, everyone, including the Supreme Court, felt that they shouldn’t be appointing its members,” Bivins said.

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