Chair of TN Senate Finance committee wants to end Supreme Court control over judiciary’s administrative functions & transfer them to the comptroller of the treasury

January 24th, 2014 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

A bill introduced in the Tennessee Senate by the chair of the Senate Finance Committee this week would transfer administrative control over the state’s courts out of the hands of the Supreme Court and to the office of the comptroller of the treasury.

SB 2322 starts by removing effectively every reference to the administrative office of the courts (AOC) and the state court administrator and replaces them with the office of the comptroller of the treasury or its head, the state treasurer.  The AOC itself would still exist, but as a part of the office of the comptroller of the treasury. Statutory references to the Supreme Court’s ability to “direct” the state court administrator would be changed to provide the Supreme Court could only “urge” an action be taken. All AOC documents would be made open to public inspection as well as those of the board of professional responsibility which oversees attorney discipline in the state.

SB 2322 moves on to disbanding the state’s judicial disciplinary body (board of judicial conduct) and transferring the power to discipline judges to a new judicial standards and review board under the administration of the state treasurer. The board would be made up of appointees by the governor, house speaker, and senate speaker; current or former judges would be prohibited from serving.

In the area of capital punishment the bill effectively eliminates judge’s abilities to extend filing and other deadlines associated with death penalty cases. Fines and reimbursement would be assessed against attorneys if they are paid for by the state and the capital conviction is later overturned due to ineffective assistance of counsel; the attorneys would also be subject to disbarment. Judges would be forced to render decisions on motions and petitions related to death penalty cases within certain deadlines and existing deadlines shortened.

In the area of judicial performance, all documents held by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission would be made public and the Commission disbanded.

There is a portion of the bill contending with judicial selection in case the November 2014 ballot item to shift to a quasi-federal system is rejected. Instead, a quasi-merit selection system would be put in place. The (defunct) Judicial Nominating Commission would be disbanded and as replaced with a new body chosen by the governor and legislative leaders and attached to the office of the comptroller of the treasury. Vacancies in judicial office due to death, resignation, etc. would have to be filled based on lists provided by the new board of judicial nominations. Thereafter those appointed would have to be re-elected in contested (as opposed to retention) elections. The judges of the state’s appellate courts would cease to be elected statewide and would have to be elected by district.

8 comments

  1. Raymond Leathers says:

    I cannot think of one good thing that would happen as a result of passage of this bill. It is unbelievably misguided!

  2. dent morriss says:

    the coments of the eminent and most respectable raymond leathers (above) are correct! This bill criminally aborts justice into the bloody hands of politicians. Anyone who thinks this is even arguably a “good idea” should look at the judicial debacle in Alabama where judges are popularly elected.
    This sort of thing plays cynically to naive folk who don’t even possess the capacity to understand the basic necessity of the separation of church and state. Our freedom treads on the thin line. Political appointment of judges is as wrong as wrong can be.

  3. Michael B, Neal says:

    No good can come from turning over supervision of judicial functions to a bunch of politicians.

  4. Debbie Harmon says:

    It’s obvious that the Legislature doesn’t understand simple civics and the three branches of government – each independent (checks & balances) upon which this country was founded. Sounds to me like a law should be passed that says our legislators need to understand civics and the operation of government in the U.S. before they can run and hold office in the legislature!

  5. Michael Freeman says:

    Isn’t the chairman of th Senate Finance Commitee a Pharmacist? This bill will reduce the idea of justice in Tennessee to a series of one-liners and knock knock jokes.

  6. Wendy says:

    So basically the Legislative Branch wants to disband the Judicial Branch because it can’t control it. There are 3 branches of government what makes the Legislative Branch think they can just do what ever they want because it gets in their way. They don’t like the fact that they are not in control and can’t make the AOC, Supreme Court and judges do what they want them to do. Idiots! What’s next – take over the Executive Branch??!!

  7. Tony Gottlieb says:

    The Tennessee Judicial system has already completely subordinated itself to the Legislative and Executive branch by unlawfully declaring the Retention-Election Statute TCA §17-4-101et seq. to be constitutionally valid, a holding which is clearly in direct conflict to Article VI Sections 3, 4 and Article VII Sections 4,5 of the Tennessee Constitution.
    In challenges currently before the Court in TN the TN Attorney General is arguing that these violations of constitutional provisions, which have been under continuous legal challenge for many years, are de facto government, and enjoy sovereign immunity. This must be the Twilight Zone.
    There seem to be very few lawyers in the State of Tennessee who have the courage to admit the truth, and can withstand the retaliation currently being leveled against the whistle blowers.

  8. What is with all of the power and authority being vested in the Comptroller by this administration? I was unaware the office existed a few years ago. Granted Justin Wilson has done a great job, but I am concerned about this power shift to an appointed officer because future administrations may not be counted upon to appoint a competent person.

    I am reluctant to make the comparison to Obama’s appointed Czars, but I do so.

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