Efforts by Tennessee legislature would re-write entire judicial performance evaluation system, let JPEC block judges from seeking retention election

March 28th, 2013 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

I’ve mentioned in the past the difficulty Tennessee has had with its merit selection system; the commissions that form the basis for it (the judicial nominating commission (JNC) and the judicial performance evaluation commission (JPEC)) must be reauthorized every few years or they automatically “sunset”. In past years the extensions have been granted by the legislature at the last minute; the JNC is set to end this year (June 30, 2012 + 1 year “wind down” period = June 20, 2013) and the JPEC in 2014 (June 30, 2013 + 1 year to “wind down”).

This year’s batch of bills to extend the commissions, at least until voters get to decide in November 2014 whether to adopted a quasi-federal system of judicial selection, have been bogged down in efforts to revamp the commissions, potentially leading the JPEC being shut down completely due the subcommittee with jurisdiction over the bill having shut down already. (h/t Tennessee Bar Association Twitter feed for the pointer).

The focus on the fight has been HB 1227 / SB 1058. As introduced, the bills had nothing to do with the commissions; it would have simply added the Government Operations Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives to the list of legislative committees required to receive a report from the administrative director of the courts on judicial appointments.

As amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, SB 1058 effectively removed all existing JPEC members and reconstituted the commission with no judges (currently there must be 3 out of 9). The new JPEC would be allowed to rewrite any existing evaluation criteria (current criteria are set by Supreme Court Rule 27).

Moreover, the JPEC could have prohibited a judge from even seeking re-election via retention election. Currently if the JPEC recommends against retention (deemed “for replacement”), the judge can nevertheless run anyway; under the amendment to SB 1058 the JPEC’s recommendation against retention barred the judge’s name from even being on the ballot.

Meanwhile, the bills to allow for a simple extension of the existing deadlines for the JNC and JPEC have failed to advance to the Governor’s desk.

HB 796 / SB 566 : Extend the JNC to 2013, with the 1 year wind down that would mean the commission could function until June 2014. The House adopted its version simply extending the deadline on February 21. The Senate, however, has gone nowhere.

HB 835 / SB 567: Extend the JPEC to June 30, 2014, with the 1 year wind down that would mean the commission could function until June 2015. The House adopted its version simply extending the deadline on March 18. The Senate, however, has gone nowhere.

HB 364 / SB 215: Extend the JNC to June 30, 2015. Neither the House nor the Senate version has advanced.

HB 695 / SB 216: Extend the JPEC to June 30, 2015. Neither the House nor the Senate version has advanced.

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