The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC)
and Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice M. Holder have approved a list of
judges who will hear cases during Cocke County General Sessions Judge John
Bell's three-month suspension.
Judge Bell was convicted in June before the Tennessee
Court of the Judiciary of several state judicial ethics violations and
suspended with pay for 90 days. He was also ordered to enroll in judicial
The AOC confirmed on Friday that no stay of the court's
order has been issued by the state supreme court or the court of the judiciary
and Judge Bell's suspension is scheduled to begin in August and last through
There are numerous familiar names on the list of judges
named to sit in general sessions and juvenile court during Judge Bell's
three-month suspension. Retired and sitting judges from across East Tennessee
have been appointed to hear the local cases.
The list of substitute judges includes former Chancellor
Jim McSween, of Newport; former Circuit Judge Ben Strand; Senior Judge Jon
Kerry Blackwood, of Knoxville; Hamblen County General Sessions Judge Janice
Snider; and other retired and sitting judges.
The designation orders and a specific court calendar have
been approved and signed by Chief Justice Holder. The calendar is scheduled to
go into effect on Monday, August 2, and last until the end of October.
Judge Bell was found guilty on June 3 of three counts of
violations of the Tennessee Code of Judicial Ethics relating to his handling of
a civil lawsuit which was filed in sessions court in 2007. The court ordered
that Judge Bell undergo judicial ethics training during the next three years and
that he be suspended for three months from the sessions court bench.
After a two-day trial before an eight-member panel of the
court of the judiciary on June 2 and 3, the court ordered that Judge Bell be
suspended for 90 days from his duties as sessions judge, placed strict
deadlines on his filing of future rulings, and ordered that he attend classes
in judicial ethics for 42 hours during the next three years.
Judge Bell was on the witness stand for nearly five hours
during the two days of the trial. He faced a three-count complaint alleging
judicial ethics violations, the essence of which was filed last October by a
three-judge investigative panel of the court, Tennessee's agency which oversees
the behavior of judges in the state.
The ethics violations found against Judge Bell stem from
his handling of a 2007 civil complaint concerning a December 2006 automobile
accident in Cocke County. Judge Bell was found to have failed to decide the
case in a timely fashion, taking about nine months to hand down a decision; to
have initiated what are called ex parte conversations, or out-of-court
communications, with the plaintiff in the civil case by recruiting Newport
attorney Tom Testerman to talk with the plaintiff; and of refusing to step down
from hearing evidence in a second civil lawsuit filed over the same incident in