Rule 3.5 Impartiality and Decorum of the Tribunal

A lawyer shall not:

(a) seek to influence a judge, juror, prospective juror, or other official by means prohibited by law;

(b) communicate ex parte with such a person during the proceeding unless authorized to do so by law or court order;

(c) communicate with a juror or prospective juror after discharge of the jury if:

(1) the communication is prohibited by law or court order;

(2) the juror has made known to the lawyer a desire not to communicate; or

(3) the communication involves misrepresentation, coercion, duress, or harassment;

(d) conduct a vexatious or harassing investigation of a juror or prospective juror; or

(e) engage in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.


[1] Many forms of improper influence upon a tribunal are proscribed by criminal law. Others are specified in the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct, with which an advocate should be familiar. A lawyer is required to avoid contributing to a violation of such provisions. For example, a lawyer shall not give or lend anything of value to a judge, judicial officer, or employee of a tribunal, except as permitted by RJC 3.13 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. A lawyer, however, may make a contribution to the campaign fund of a candidate for judicial office in conformity with RJC 4.4 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

[2] During a proceeding a lawyer may not communicate ex parte with persons serving in an official capacity in the proceeding, such as judges, masters or jurors, unless authorized to do so by law or court order. Unless such a communication is otherwise prohibited by law or court order, paragraph (b) of this Rule would not prohibit a lawyer from communicating with a judge on the merits of the cause in writing if the lawyer promptly delivers a copy of the writing to opposing counsel and to parties who are not represented by counsel because that would not be an ex parte communication.

[3] Paragraph (b) also does not prohibit a lawyer from communicating with a judge in an ex parte hearing to establish the absence of a conflict of interest under RPC 1.7(c). In such proceedings, the lawyer is of course bound by the duty of candor in RPC 3.3(a)(3).

[4] A lawyer may on occasion want to communicate with a juror or prospective juror after the jury has been discharged. The lawyer may do so unless the communication is prohibited by law or a court order entered in the case or by a federal court rule, but must respect the desire of the juror not to talk with the lawyer. The lawyer may not engage in improper conduct during the communication. As the Court stated in State v. Thomas. 813 S.W. 2d. 395 (Tenn. 1991): “After the trial, communication by a lawyer with jurors is permitted so long as he [or she] refrains from asking questions or making comments that tend to harass or embarrass the juror or to influence actions of the juror in future cases. Were a lawyer to be prohibited from communicating after trial with a juror, he [or she] could not ascertain if the verdict might be subject to legal challenge, in which event the invalidity of a verdict might go undetected.” Id. (quoting Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 8, EC 7-291). The Court went on to state in Thomas that “Rule 8 therefore allows post-trial interviews by Counsel with jurors on these matters without the prior approval of the trial court.” Id. at 396. Although the Court’s analysis in Thomas was based on an earlier version of Rule 8 (i.e., the Code of Professional Responsibility), the foregoing principles quoted from Thomas remain valid in the context of RPC 3.5.

[4a] A communication with, or an investigation of, the spouse, child, parent, or sibling of a juror or prospective juror will be deemed a communication with or an investigation of the juror or prospective juror.

[5] The advocate’s function is to present evidence and argument so that the cause may be decided according to law. Refraining from abusive or obstreperous conduct is a corollary of the advocate’s right to speak on behalf of litigants. A lawyer may stand firm against abuse by a judge, but should avoid reciprocation; the judge’s default is no justification for similar dereliction by an advocate. An advocate can present the cause, protect the record for subsequent review, and preserve professional integrity by patient firmness no less effectively than by belligerence or theatrics.

[6] The duty to refrain from disruptive conduct applies to any proceeding of a tribunal, including a deposition. See RPC 1.0(m).

Definitional Cross-References

“Known” See RPC 1.0(f)

“Tribunal” See RPC 1.0(m)


Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8: Rules of Professional Conduct Copyright © 2021 by BirdDog Law, LLC (No copyright claimed as to government works.). All Rights Reserved.