NO GAY MARRIAGES AROUND HERE, PERIOD?: A Tennessee Judicial Ethics Case

Michael Sean Quinn*

A judge (“J”) announced the pending dismissal of a post gay marriage divorce case in which each spouse was suing the other on the grounds that the U.S. Supreme Court has deprived state courts of subject matter  jurisdiction in divorce cases. His arguments were silly, and his prose was not only ideological but nasty in tone. It was the sort of language for which a mere lawyer might be held in contempt. Naturally a disciplinary complaint was filed against the judge. Thereafter, he invited the parties to file briefs regarding the views he expressed in his pseudo-dismissal order.  

The day after J received a disciplinary complaint, he granted the divorce.  He then more or less apologized, indicated that he did not realize how the public would understand and react to his opinions, and fully cooperated in the proceeding. 

The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct issued a letter of Public Reprimand to J on December 18, 2015 finding that, although J had cooperated he has also violated Rule 1.2 of that state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, to wit: “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

I can imagine some wag criticizing the opinion of the Board on the grounds that it is impossible to believe that  J could actually believe that his nasty, primitive, and ignorant opinion, part of which is quoted in the letter of Public Reprimand, could possibly be taken by J as “innocent,” given the language of Rule 1.2.  If this proposition is true, then J did not cooperate in the disciplinary process.  The only reasonable conclusion is that J knew very well that his order was beyond the judicial ken and was certainly either improper or at least apparently improper. The kind of error J claims is not the sort of thing a competent judge would commit, even negligently.  J’s error was impassioned, irrational, and intentional. At least one of the several accepted senses of the term “adamantine,” fits his order perfectly, even though the prose lacks all luster and shine. 

Perhaps I will discuss the related but different Alabama fiasco in another blawg, when I recover from shock.  

*Michael Sean Quinn
Law Office of Michael Sean Quinn
1300 West Lynn Suite 208
Austin, TX 78703
Office Phone: 512-296-2594
Fax: 512-344-9466