Critics said a new law intended to give Tennesseans a fair day in court is off to a bad start and regular people heading into court are still suffering.
Since July 1, Tennesseans have been allowed to ask the appeals court to recuse a judge from their case if they don't believe the judge will be fair on the case.
The law was sparked after witness after witness complained of instances such as judges who were hunting buddies with people whose divorce cases they were hearing and then heard the case anyway.
So many complaints and evidence piled up showing many judges were refusing to acknowledge their potential bias until the Supreme Court stepped in and allowed those involved to appeal the higher court to rule on a recusal.
"I think there was a sigh of relief among the bar that they could ask for these recusals without a fear of retaliation," said Attorney Jim Roberts.
But that sigh of relief has now become a sigh of exasperation. In the first two-and-a-half-months, the appeals court has ruled on just four requests for recusal and granted none of them.
"I feel sorry for these litigants in these first couple of cases, because I worry about what's going to happen to them when they go back. Because there the judge is going to be able to say, 'I was right and you were wrong, and you accused me of being biased. Let's go have a fair trial.' I would not want to be in that situation," Roberts said.
Roberts has been in that situation, as he has asked for recusals and been denied.
He was also a witness at the statewide hearing on judicial reform. But there is something even more damaging about the appeals process.
An appeal for recusal must have a price. Otherwise, there would likely be countless frivolous appeals. But it costs $1,000 to ask for a recusal review, which may keep many from ever trying.
"I don't know if it should be free, but $1,000 just denies access to the courts. It might as well be $10,000 or $1 million, because 99 percent of the people are not going to be able to afford that, ever," Roberts said.
The clerk for appeals said they have to charge the $1,000 up front, because with each filing the price can go up.
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Tuesday, May 21 2013 8:39 PM EDT2013-05-22 00:39:52 GMT
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