Mimesis Law
22 November 2017

A Judge’s Simple Request Meets A Cop-Friendly Mayor

Dec. 7, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — General Sessions Judge Ken Bailey of the Third Judicial District in Tennessee has a really hard time appearing calm and even tempered on the bench some days.  His explanation?  The good judge is overworked.

“There are days I appear to be short with people and frustrated and that’s not good for anybody, including myself. It’s hard (for the public) to understand, to hear what I hear on a daily basis,” he said.

General Sessions in Tennessee is a limited jurisdiction court that tries misdemeanor cases, handles preliminary hearings for felony cases, civil cases with a small claims amount, juvenile cases, and traffic tickets.  Bailey, being the one Sessions judge in Greene County, handles all of those cases, with the help of one part time juvenile court magistrate.

The case load between Judge Bailey and his magistrate is staggering.

Statistics compiled by Greene County Circuit Court Clerk Pam Venerable speak for themselves:

* There were more than 5,700 General Sessions Court criminal cases in 2014. Through Dec. 2, a total of almost 7,100 criminal cases have appeared on the docket in 2015.

* In 2014, there were about 2,500 cases on the Civil Sessions Court docket. Through Dec. 2, the total is more than 3,000 for 2015. Types of civil cases heard in sessions court include small claims up to $25,000, including car accidents and landlord-tenant disputes.

* There were nearly 8,400 traffic tickets on the docket in General Sessions Court in 2014. Through Dec. 2, the number for 2015 is nearly 9,400.

Adding those numbers together for 2015 makes 19,500 cases for one judge and one magistrate to hear, with the magistrate only hearing Dependency and Neglect and some Delinquency cases.  Splitting that number between two judges makes one wonder how a defendant in Greene County would honestly be able to think they’d get a judge acting “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” per Tennessee’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

Mind you, neither Bailey nor his magistrate, David Leonard, are bitching about their jobs.  They know what they signed on for, and despite the staggering amount of work foisted on them they continue to do their jobs in the best manner possible.  The one request they have is a simple one: hire another General Sessions judge.

“Every county larger than us has two sessions judges. Counties smaller than us have two sessions judges,” Bailey said. “We are at the point where I feel like I’m spinning my wheels when it regards repeat offenders.”

It’s not as though this request is outside the lines of Greene County’s possibility.  The budget for 2014 that ended in June allocated over four and a half million dollars to the Sheriff’s Department alone.  Meanwhile, the entire line budget for the “Administration of Justice” section of the budget, which includes every court in the county’s funding, comes to just under two million total.

All it would take is easily a half million or so off the Sheriff’s Department’s funds to hit the state mandated $160,000 per year minimum salary for a General Sessions Judge and the salary of another clerk.  It’s a simple measure for the county to approve, and one Mayor David Crum could easily convince the county to pass.  Unfortunately for the Court, Mayor Crum isn’t keen on getting to the issue very quickly.

Mayor David Crum, who must also consider budget requests of other department heads trying to make ends meet with existing resources, is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

“What’s the greatest need for Greene County? I appreciate department heads that advocate for their department, but we have several departments [with needs],” Crum said Friday.

I’m sure one of the departments with “needs” Mayor Crum is considering is the “Public Safety” department, given before his rise to office he spent twenty-seven years in law enforcement.  That’s almost thirty years of the First Rule of Policing coloring your every action.  Almost thirty years of viewing the world as “us against them,” working your way to get convictions.  Almost thirty years of demanding compliance with his every single action, and operating to get said compliance by any means necessary. It’s no wonder Mayor Crum doesn’t think it’s worth a look at giving defendants another judge who can ostensibly give them a fair and impartial trial in court.  To the good Mayor, the courts are doing just fine grinding each perp through the system and putting them in a jail that was decertified by the Tennessee Corrections Institute due to overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Judge Ken Bailey, his two Sessions assistants, and three Juvenile Court assistants continue to do their jobs to the best of their ability.  In the face of continued civil suits, prosecutions, and Department of Children’s Services cases Bailey remains doggedly optimistic but worn.

“I love my job. I don’t think I could do my job if I didn’t love it, but we need help in multiple ways in the court system,” Bailey said. “The clerk’s office needs another clerk and we need more juvenile support staff. I have the same juvenile staff that Greene County had 30 years ago.”

Thirty years ago the docket wasn’t as clogged as it was thanks to arrest happy police and DCS workers ready to impose a nanny state mentality on every parent in the Third Judicial District. Absent another judge, the public’s trust in the courts will continue to erode, Judge Bailey and Magistrate Leonard will continue to face expanding dockets, and tiny little Greene County’s courts could find themselves under scrutiny from the Board of Judicial Conduct.

Of course, when you have a mayor with almost thirty years experience viewing everyone as a perp, the administration of justice will never be as important as locking up the bad guy.

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