Supreme Court Adopts New Ethics Rules for Judges

June 26, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted a comprehensive revision to the Code of Judicial Conduct, which sets forth the ethics rules for Tennessee judges. The new Code of Judicial Conduct, which is Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10, will take effect on July 1, 2012. 

“Maintaining a high standard of judicial ethics is paramount to the public’s trust and confidence in the courts and the judges who preside over them,” Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark said. “These changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct will provide Tennessee judges with greater guidance for conducting the business of the courts in a fair, impartial and ethical manner.”

Along with the changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Court also adopted a rule setting out a new procedure for pursuing the recusal of a judge, and a new process for seeking an expedited appeal if a motion for recusal is denied.

Under the new recusal procedure, judges are required to provide, in writing, grounds for denying any motion for recusal. And, in cases where the recusal is granted, the rule outlines the process for designating a new judge in the case. 

In the rule, the Court also established the process for seeking an expedited appeal should a motion for recusal be denied. Should a judge deny a motion for recusal, an accelerated appeal may be filed with the appropriate appellate court within 15 days of the judge’s ruling. The appellate court will then make a decision on an expedited basis. 

The revised Code of Judicial Conduct continues to allow elected judges and judicial candidates to make contributions to political organizations or to other candidates for public office and to attend or purchase tickets to dinners and other events sponsored by a political organization or a candidate for public office. However, judges and judicial candidates are prohibited from endorsing or opposing other candidates for public office. 

In following the American Bar Association’s model rules of judicial conduct, the Court adopted a new provision regarding the disability and impairment of a judge or attorney. The new rule instructs judges to take “appropriate action” should a judge have reasonable belief that another judge or attorney is impaired by drugs, alcohol or other physical, mental or emotional condition. 

The new Code of Judicial Conduct was adopted as a result of a petition filed by the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) to make changes to the current ethics rules. The TBA’s proposed rule changes were developed by a 13-member task force of attorneys and judges.

The Supreme Court filed the TBA’s proposed rules for public comment in March 2011. Following the public comment period, the Supreme Court held oral arguments in December 2011 to discuss some of the issues in the TBA’s proposed rule. The revised Code of Judicial Conduct was initially adopted by the Court in January 2012, and the Court finalized several corrections and modifications to the revised Code in June 2012.

View the Order

Amendment 06/29/2012