NASHVILLE (AP) – Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday named Criminal Appeals Judge Jeff Bivins to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court bench.
Bivins, 53, will replace Justice Bill Koch, who is retiring in July to become dean of the Nashville School of Law.
Bivins was a circuit court judge for Williamson, Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties before Haslam named him to the criminal appeals court in 2011. He was an attorney for what is now the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm in Nashville from 1986 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2005.
Between those stints in private practice, he served as an assistant commissioner and general counsel for the Tennessee Department of Personnel during the administration of Republican Gov. Don Sundquist.
Sundquist named Bivins a circuit judge in 1999, but he lost an election to a full eight-year term the next year. Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen named him to the same judgeship in 2005, and he was unopposed for a full term the next year.
Bivins is a Kingsport native who earned his bachelor's degree from East Tennessee State University in 1982 and his law degree from Vanderbilt University in 1986.
Bivins is Haslam's second appointment to the five-member Supreme Court since taking office in 2011.
The governor in December named Appeals Judge Holly Kirby to replace Justice Janice Holder, who isn't standing for another term in August.
"Tennesseans will benefit from his vast experience as he moves to our state's highest court," Haslam said in his announcement of Bivins' appointment.
As circuit judge, Bivins in 2007 sentenced country singer Mindy McCready to a year in jail after she violated probation on a 2004 drug charge by getting charged in a domestic dispute in Florida. McCready died last year of suspected self-inflicted gunshot to the head amid the series of tumultuous public events that marked much of her adult life.
In 2005, Bivins sentenced Martin Frankel, a financier who admitted to a scheme to loot insurance companies in Tennessee and several other states, to 16 years in prison. Frankel had triggered an international manhunt when he disappeared in 1999 from his mansion in Greenwich, Conn. He was arrested in Germany four months later.
Bivins in 2012 defended the state's judicial disciplinary committee against some lawmakers' criticism that it wasn't aggressive enough in investigating complaints and misconduct.
Public records showed that panel, then called the Court of the Judiciary, had dismissed the vast majority of the 334 complaints against judges in the previous year. It issued nine public reprimands, six private reprimands and three deferred discipline agreements.
Bivins, who was a member of what was later renamed the Board of Judicial Conduct, said those result weren't skewed by having majority of the panel made up by judges. He argued that it's customary for members of the same profession to discipline their own, the way doctors, architects, pharmacists and others do.
"So, we're simply asking to be treated like the other professionals," Bivins said at the time.
That viewpoint ended up carrying the day in the Legislature: Of the 16 positions on the new panel, 10 were reserved for judges. Of the remaining six, three are lawyers.
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