Judicial Recusal Reform Enacted

By Brandi Davis
(615) 499-5131
bdavis@shuttleworthwilliams.com

Several new revisions to The Code of Judicial Conduct have been recently adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court. One of the primary changes is the implementation of a new procedure for pursuing the recusal of a judge.   This new policy mandates that the judge that denies a request for recusal must now state the reasons for the denial in writing.  This change also provides a new method for seeking an expedited appeal if a motion for recusal is denied.   Litigants will now have the opportunity to appeal de novo to a higher court within 15 days of the judge’s ruling.  This will ensure that the challenged judge does not have the final word on recusal.  New rules also outline the process for the appointment of a new judge when a recusal is granted.

The revisions to the ethical guidelines for judges in Tennessee also attempts to eliminate the influence of large campaign contributions in judicial races. Tennessee judges can no longer preside over cases when either a litigant, their lawyer or law firm has made a substantial contribution to the judge’s campaign that would raise questions regarding a judge’s ability to remain impartial.  This new rule is one that was motivated by the United States Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey in 2009.  That case acknowledged the threats to public opinion of judicial impartiality that occur when judges preside over cases concerning their campaign supporters.

Judges are also now required to disqualify themselves from a case if they have previously presided over a judicial settlement conference or mediation in the same matter.

Chief Justice Clark stated, “We believe  these changes to the Code of Judicial Conduct will provide Tennessee judges with greater guidance for conducting the business of the courts in an impartial and ethical manner.”

These revisions to the Code were adopted by the Tennessee Supreme Court as a result of a petition filed by the Tennessee Bar Association in the hopes of ensuring judges remain neutral in their rulings.  The new Code of Judicial Conduct is to take effect on July 1, 2012.