County approves resolution for third Sessions Court judge

Gary B. Gray • Feb 28, 2012 at 11:26 PM

An increasingly heavy case load for Washington County’s two Sessions Court judges soon will be spread among three judges.

The Washington County Commission unanimously approved a resolution Monday requesting the Tennessee General Assembly to adopt a private act officially designated as “Part III, Court of General Sessions.”

“We expect the General Assembly to approve this, and then the County Commission will have to approve it, but we expect that should happen in a relatively short time,” Commissioner Roger Nave said Tuesday. “Commissioners can approve the recommendation by a two-thirds vote, and that person will start service on January 1, 2013, and serve until August 31, 2014.”

After that date, a judge for the new court will be elected for a full eight-year term.

Sessions Judges Robert Lincoln and James Nidiffer had asked commissioners to help by having legislators add a new section to current state law that would create another court in Washington County that would deal with cases within the established jurisdiction.

The private act also creates the jurisdiction of the new Part III judge and court to hear and decide cases involving alleged violations of environmental ordinances and resolutions. When hearing these cases, the court will be referred to as “the county’s environmental court.”

The new judge will share all the powers granted to Lincoln and Nidiffer and be paid about $148,000 annually. The judge cannot engage in private practice during his or her tenure with the county.

Meanwhile, the private act enlarges the powers, duties and responsibilities of Circuit Court Clerk Karen Guinn. The clerk will be required to attend the new court when it is in session and to collect fees and charges and to disburse revenues as directed by state law.

Commissioners also voted 18-4 with three absent, to also request that the General Assembly adopt a private act creating the first office of county attorney and the establishment of a Legal Services Oversight Committee that would oversee the attorney pay and affairs.

John Rambo, a private attorney who has been representing the county, is the choice for that position. It is thought in some circles that Rambo may be a candidate for the new Sessions judge spot. He was not immediately available for comment, but Eldridge said he thought Rambo would make an excellent judge.

In fiscal year 2010-11, the county paid Rambo a total of $285,688. This includes about $231,000 associated with legal expenses and reimbursables and more than $54,000 from an annual $33,000 retainer fee, plus retirement, health and other benefits.

He also receives from the county a $150 hourly rate as set by his private practice, Rambo Law Firm, as well as a $70 hourly rate for paralegal service, Eldridge said.

Eldridge said a nationwide survey of city and county attorney salaries by Nashville’s Burris Thompson & Associates revealed the median pay for a local government attorney was $109,676.

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