News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled (Friday) that Knoxville attorney Herbert S. Moncier must pay the costs incurred prosecuting the disciplinary proceeding that resulted in his one-year suspension from the practice of law in Tennessee.
On June 1, 2011, the Supreme Court assessed costs totaling $22,038.32 against Mr. Moncier. Afterward, Mr. Moncier petitioned for relief from costs, arguing that the disciplinary proceedings resulting in his suspension were unfair and unconstitutional.
A three-member panel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BPR) refused to grant him relief from costs. Mr. Moncier appealed to the Supreme Court, again arguing that he should not be required to pay costs because the disciplinary proceedings that resulted in his suspension were unfair and unconstitutional. Mr. Moncier also argued that the members of the BPR panel assigned to hear his petition for relief from costs were biased against him.
The Supreme Court addressed and rejected Mr. Moncier’s arguments and affirmed the BPR panel’s decision denying him relief from costs. Among other things, the Court concluded that Tennessee’s attorney-disciplinary procedure is consistent with the due process requirements of the Tennessee and United States constitutions and that disqualification standards applicable to judges do not apply to members of the Board of Professional Responsibility.
To read Herbert S. Moncier v. Board of Professional Responsibility Opinion, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit TNCourts.gov.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has disciplined three high-ranking employees over child death record-keeping.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/10Ucayd ) cited internal memos in reporting the demotion of team coordinator Lisa Lund, who appealed the penalty and was reinstated with a two-day unpaid suspension. The documents also noted the two-day suspension of Director of Child Safety Marjahna Hart, who is Lund’s supervisor. Also disciplined was Carla Aaron the executive director of child safety, who oversees both Hart and Lund. Aaron received a written warning.
The Tennessean and other news organizations, including The Associated Press, sued the department to obtain records of children who died after agency contact with them.
The three employees are on the Child Fatality Review Team, which fell behind and failed to follow department policies, leading to court-ordered reforms.
Disciplinary records cited by The Tennessean show Lund was responsible for the fatality’s team’s meeting minutes, but some had errors or were incomplete and not fully reflective of the team’s discussions. Lund tried to bring the records up to date months after media and the children’s advocacy group Children’s Rights requested them.
Aaron later found Lund left out “significant portions” of the team’s minutes before they were made public. Passages left out of the first batch of documents contain key details about how DCS caseworkers made decisions about child abuse investigations.
Lund was collecting child fatality information, putting details into a digital spreadsheet as early as January 2011. However, a timeline written by Aaron shows the accuracy of the document was questioned as early as May 2012.
A memo from Department of Children’s Services Interim Commissioner Jim Henry to Lund noted the early miscounts led to “significant negative publicity in statewide media outlets (print, television and radio), as well as additional scrutiny by . the federal court.”
In arguing her appeal, Lund wrote to Henry that the department’s reliance on a spreadsheet was “flawed.”
“The spreadsheet has not been an accurate and effective means for capturing data,” she wrote.
Henry rescinded Lund’s demotion.
Lund and Aaron declined comment for the newspaper’s report.
DSC has created a new process for tracking child fatalities, to be in place by August. It requires the department to keep thorough meeting minutes and publish an annual report of fatality review findings.
At least five Tennessee physicians have been disciplined for having consensual sexual relationships with patients since mid-2005, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press’ review of state records. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, isn’t one of them, despite conducting such a relationship with a patient he met on the job. His record shows no history of patient complaints, and he’s still a registered family practice physician whose license doesn’t expire until 2014.
But even though it’s at least a decade old, a phone transcript that revealed DesJarlais pressuring his former patient to abort a pregnancy could lead to disciplinary action.
“There is no statute of limitations on filing complaints against licensed health professionals,” said Shelley Walker, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Health.
Walker said “anyone who has information” on possible physician misconduct can file a report with the department’s complaints division. Complaints that can be substantiated are passed on to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, which disciplines physicians and other health professionals.
The board never reveals the names of those who file complaints.
…An anti-abortion freshman legislator, DesJarlais often hypes his medical career — his campaign signs simply say “Dr. Scott DesJarlais.” He plans on returning to medicine after six terms in Congress.
In an interview Friday, DesJarlais said he exercised “poor judgment,” but doesn’t see the doctor-patient relationship as “a disqualifying issue” for a post-congressional career.
“I’m confident that a professional review would allow me to continue to practice medicine,” he said.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is about to adopt a new method for disciplining judges that supporters say contains more accountability and should help restore the public’s faith in the judicial system.
“We got a lot of things in it that we wanted,” said state Sen. Mae Beavers. “I think it ended up being a fairly good piece of legislation. There’s more accountability than there is at the present time.”
The Mt. Juliet Republican has long been an outspoken critic of the Court of the Judiciary, which she said has dismissed too many citizen complaints against judges accused of serious misconduct.
The proposal that overwhelmingly passed both chambers of the legislature and is being reviewed by the governor would terminate the court in July and replace it with a 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct that would have a similar mission of ensuring that judges are ethical and fit to serve on the bench.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A plan backed by Tennessee judges that would change the ethics panel that disciplines jurists is at odds with arguably the judiciary’s biggest critic in the legislature — Sen. Mae Beavers .
The differences in opinion came out this week at a debate before the Tennessee Press Association between Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins.
Beavers has long complained that the ethics board, known as the Court of the Judiciary, is dismissing too many citizen complaints against judges accused of serious misconduct.
The judges are backing legislation that would make it more difficult to dismiss a complaint against a jurist. But they still insist that the vast majority the disciplinary board be made up of judges.
The majority of members now are judges appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
“I just think it looks bad when you have judges appointed by judges to judge judges,” Beavers said at the debate.
Beavers wants fewer judges on the panel and thinks they should be appointed by the speakers of the House and Senate.
State judges pitched their plan for reforming the Court of the Judiciary (SB2671) to a Senate committee Wednesday, according to TNReport, 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.
News release from the Administrative Office of the Courts (issued a day before legislative hearings on the Court of the Judiciary begin):
Nashville, Tenn. – The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) has released a new report that provides a historical look at the oversight of judicial discipline in Tennessee and how it has changed in the past 40 years.
For the first time, the report compiles 20 years worth of information about judicial disciplinary complaints and how they were resolved. In that timeframe, 46 judges have left the bench–either through resignation, retirement, loss of election or death–while a disciplinary complaint was pending.
The report also details the circumstances surrounding the five judges that have been recommended for removal by the Court of the Judiciary and its predecessor, the Judicial Standards Commission, in the past 40 years. Following the recommendation for removal of these five judges, two of the judges resigned or retired, two of the judges were removed by a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly, and one judge later retired after the General Assembly failed to attain sufficient votes to remove him.
The report provides an overview of how the Judicial Standards Commission was created and how it later changed to become the Court of the Judiciary, the current body that reviews and investigates ethical complaints against judges.
The report is available on the AOC website at www.tncourts.gov.
Discipline of Adam Kleinheider for sending one of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s political releases out on state email has been handled “internally” at the Legislature, reports Andrea Zelinski. Apparently, the mistake — which Kleinheider quickly acknowledged — was considered no big deal. Other legislative staffers privately tell TNReport they’re constantly faced with decisions about whether the messages the government is paying them to send on behalf of their elected bosses are too political to be sent through state email accounts or written while on the clock or using government equipment or facilities.
“We try to make that very clear — that this is not something they should be doing on state time,” said Ridley, who did not release details of any punishment or reprimand Kleinheider may have received. “This is the only one (instance) that I’ve been aware of as it relates to political activity.”
Most lawmakers with whom TNReport has inquired about the matter say Kleinheider’s decision to send an apparent campaign endorsement as an official state news release is pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things — not something for which he probably ought to be fined, fired or incarcerated.
“When we’ve done it, they’ve criticized us tremendously for it. But we’ve got bigger fish to fry up here,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Old Hickory Democrat and the minority caucus chairman in the House. “We’ve got people out of work. We’ve got things happening, and I’m not going to be petty and get on them about that.” Note: Original post on the foulup HERE.
While more attention has been paid to the long-running debate over how to select Tennessee’s top judges, another round of discourse has been developing over how to punish judges for their foul-ups. It could develop into an even bigger clash between the legislative and judicial branches of our state government.
Now in charge of discipline of those in black robes is the Court of the Judiciary, a 16-member body that keeps much of its work behind closed doors.
Ten of the panel’s members are judges appointed by the state Supreme Court, with three other members picked by the Tennessee Bar Association and one each by the governor, House speaker and Senate speaker. In other words, the judicial branch is in control.
A bill by Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers would trim the panel back to 12 members, all of them appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. Only a minority, five members, would be judges. In other words, the Legislature would be in control.
Over the state Supreme Court’s objections, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to overhaul the body that disciplines judges for misbehavior.
The bill by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, would abolish the present Court of the Judiciary effective Oct. 1 and create a new panel with all members appointed by the speakers of the House and Senate.
The current panel has 16 members with the Supreme Court appointing 10 of them. The Tennessee Bar Association picks three and the governor, speaker of the House and speaker of the Senate pick one each.
The panel created by SB1088, as amended in committee Tuesday, would reduce the panel to 12 members and have the speakers of the House and Senate appoint all of them. The current panel also has just three members who are not judges or lawyers. The new panel would have six public members.