Third court would mean more work for DA’s office

Becky Campbell • Apr 9, 2012 at 11:46 PM

While state legislators mull over approval of Washington County’s request to create a third Sessions Court, the man in charge of prosecuting cases is trying to determine how he’ll staff that courtroom.

“The bottom line is I will have someone to work full time with the new judge, but I do not have the personnel right now,” District Attorney General Tony Clark said.

Clark was recently able to hire an entry-level attorney and keep a seasoned lawyer whose position was previously funded by a grant. The grant ended, but Clark said he has been able to reorganize his office to some degree, which gave him room to hire the new attorney.

That move came after longtime prosecutor Kent Garland retired last year.

Clark also pulled the attorney dedicated to Juvenile Court and he, along with the new attorney, are now training in the two current Sessions courtrooms to prepare for the third court.

Now, Juvenile Court prosecution rotates among a few attorneys in Clark’s office.

“I wanted to keep a dedicated Juvenile Court DA, but I don’t have the staff to do that,” he said.

When the state funds new DA positions, the District Attorney General’s Conference, the governing body of DA’s, decides what districts need those positions the most.

Clark said he’s requested positions in the past, but those haven’t been approved for the past three years.

“Other districts have some county-paid DA’s,” he said, which allows those counties to have larger staffs. Clark said he could ask the Washington County Commission for that as well, but said it’s unlikely to be approved.

But even with additional staff, Clark said he isn’t sure where he would put them. Day one at the new Washington County Justice Center found the DA’s offices overcrowded.

“I have 19 employees in an area designed for probably 10,” and only one bathroom, he said. “I don’t have space for anybody else.”

The office’s technology system that provides computer connections and phone lines is also maxed out, he said.

Clark said the clerk’s office gave up a small room that was being used by the court reporters. Now, two assistant district attorneys share the space as an office.

And thousands of case files the DA’s office is required by state law to keep indefinitely must soon be moved from the old county courthouse.

“I don’t even have enough filing space in the new justice center to hold all the open case files,” he said.

Filing space or not, Clark will have to find somewhere to store those old case files and somewhere to stuff another lawyer.

Sessions Judges James Nidiffer and Robert Lincoln asked the County Commission earlier this year to fund the third Sessions Court. The request was quickly approved and it moved on to Nashville. The Legislature must approve to create the court, but the position receives no state funding. The position pays $148,400 a year and is funded through court costs and fines.

The new judge will be chosen by the County Commission and will start in January. No local attorneys have announced any intention publicly to seek that position.

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