Tennessee 2012 Legislative Year in Review: Judicial selection, court fees, e-filing, veterans courts

Much of the 2012 activity in the Tennessee legislature related to the judiciary surrounded the state’s merit selection system and proposals to change it to abandon it outright. Following dozens of pieces of legislation introduced over the last 4 years, the constitutional amendment that came out of the 2012 session was SJR 710, which provides that a governor may appoint anyone who meets age and residency requirements to appellate courts with legislative confirmation. It provides for retention elections but  removes any reference to merit or merit selection. The amendment must be re-approved by a two-thirds super-majority in the 2013/2014 legislature before being submitted to the voters.

New laws affecting the courts enacted by the Tennessee legislature in 2012 include the following:

HB 2481 Authorizes the county legislative body of any county having a charter form of government to establish and set fees for court clerks in such manner and amounts as deemed appropriate by the county legislative body

HB 2537 Extends sunset date for the judicial performance evaluation commission to June 30, 2013.

HB 2633 Increases, from $2.00 to $4.00, the filing fee charged by all court clerks except those in Knox County. Terminates the $2.00 fee increase on July 1, 2016, unless continued by the General Assembly. Increases the data entry fee charged by the Knox County court clerks for each new case filed. Retains pre-July, 1, 2012, fees for specified cases brought by the state and state agencies. Directs that unexpended funds will not revert to the General Fund.

HB 2978 Clarifies to which judges certain financial disclosure laws apply. Clarifies that newly elected judges may practice law to wind up their practice.

HB 3051 Authorizes clerks with electronic filing systems to charge $120 for each registered user of the system and to institute an 8-cent per page copy transaction fee. Provides the fees authorized by the bill may not be assessed against the state.

HB 3282 Allows members of the judicial nominating commission to serve successive terms. Allows solicitor general and employees of the attorney general to serve on the commission. Allows members to participate in meetings by telephone if three or fewer applicants. Allows members continuance in court hearings if commission meeting scheduled.

HB 3604 Imposes additional $2.00 litigation tax on criminal charges instituted in general sessions court. Creates judicial commissioner continuing education account. Subject to appropriation, authorizes moneys in fund to be utilized for development and presentation of continuing education programs. Specifies $2 tax would not apply in counties where commissioners are authorized under present law to receive appropriate continuing education under the supervision of the general sessions judges rather than the judicial commissioners association of Tennessee or the Tennessee court clerks association.

SB 2671 Abolishes the court of judiciary. Creates 16-member board of judicial conduct, divided into 12 member hearing panel, 3 member investigative panel, and chair. Changes the burden of proof to investigate a judge to probable cause that misconduct occurred from substantial likelihood that it did.

SB 3222 Authorizes creation of veterans’ courts to address particular concerns of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress and other conditions arising from military service

SB 3652 Requires House and Senate speakers appoint all nine members of the judicial evaluation commission since the judicial council no longer exists.