At least six look to apply for judge slot

Becky Campbell • Jul 27, 2012 at 9:56 PM

The process to select a third General Session judge by Jan. 1 isn’t hammered down, but at least six people have taken steps to put their name in the hat.

Washington County commissioners voted this week to appoint an eight-member legal services committee, which will be responsible for setting a deadline for consideration to the post, said Commission Chairman Greg Matherly on Friday.

The county’s steering committee, which meets next week, is likely to recommend the legal services committee to determine that deadline as well as each step of the process to fill the new position.

“That committee will determine the process of applying, the last date to apply and whether or not there will be interviews,” Matherly said.

Interviews for the position are not required by state law and apparently applications could be moot if an attorney had support from 13 of the county’s 25 commissioners.

“State law is that you’re nominated from the floor,” Matherly said. “Even if you don’t submit a letter of intent ... if you get nominated and get 13 votes, you’ll be the judge.”

But Matherly said he feels the commission would rather have a “process that will be very transparent and give the public the opportunity to hear the qualifications of the judicial candidates.”

Some of those decision are likely to be made at the legal services first meeting on Aug. 9 at 4 p.m. in the downtown courthouse.

With the third judge, the General Sessions court will have additional responsibilities as well. The commission voted earlier this year to add environmental issues to those dockets.

Sessions Judge James Nidiffer and Judge Robert Lincoln already hear juvenile, civil and misdemeanor criminal cases. Both judges support an additional position to help ease the growing case load.

The commission voted this week to raise the court fee that goes to the judges salary from $12 per case to $18 per case.

The increased fee will not fund the new position entirely, but simply help offset the costs of the approximate $148,000 per year judge position.

In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the clerk’s office received a total of $122,405.37 from the $12 fee, which doesn’t cover the costs of one judge, much less two.

In addition to the judge’s salary, other costs associated with a third court include court clerks, officers for security, public defenders for appointed cases, district attorney generals to prosecute cases and portable equipment so that third judge can rotate around to other courtrooms if needed.

The six attorneys who are already vying for the job are Ken Baldwin, currently an assistant district attorney general for the First Judicial District; Douglas Carter, a private practice attorney with an office in Johnson City; Suzanne Cook, a private practice attorney and partner with Hunter, Smith & Davis; Bill Donaldson, currently an assistant public defender for the First Judicial District; Janie Lindamood, a private practice attorney with an office in Johnson City; Dan Smith, a private practice attorney with an office in Jonesborough.

More details about the attorneys seeking the new judgeship will be provided closer to the appointment.

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