Judge candidates face county commissioners

Becky Campbell • Nov 8, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Washington County commissioners interviewed seven local attorneys vying for a new judgeship created to alleviate long days in court due to overcrowded criminal and civil dockets.

The process started at 9 a.m. at the Washington County Courthouse in downtown Jonesborough. Each candidate was allotted 10 minutes to address the Legal Services Committee before members could ask questions of the group or individual applicants.

Prior to Thursday’s interviews, the lawyers submitted an 18-page application that consisted of 40 questions. The committee also sent applicants a supplemental questionnaire, consisting of 14 questions, due by the interview.

Those documents and the interview are supposed to be what commissioners use to determine who is best qualified for the position.

Each applicant touted their strengths as best they could in the allotted time Thursday.

The applicants include four private practice attorneys — Don Arnold, Doug Carter, Steve Darden and Dan Smith — two assistant district attorneys general — Ken Baldwin and Michael Rasnake — and one assistant public defender, Bill Donaldson.

Some of the primary issues commissioners asked the applicants to address were how judges can help the sheriff’s office keep the jail population down to an acceptable level, the primary problems facing Sessions Court and how to best utilize their time on the bench.

Overloaded dockets are the main reason the commission created the new position, but it also allowed a new issue to be addressed — environmental violations.

Technically, the new judgeship is called Environmental Court, but the two sitting Sessions judges, James Nidiffer and Robert Lincoln, have said all duties of the job — misdemeanor criminal, civil, juvenile and now environmental cases — will be divided evenly.

Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said he was impressed by all seven applicants for the job, and he felt the interview session went well.

“I thought they did great. I though each one of them brought something different” to the table, he said. “Some of them have a lot of experience and some are practicing in General Sessions Court today.”

Of the seven, Rasnake pends all of his court time in Sessions Court because he is assigned there by District Attorney General Tony Clark, although all the applicants spoke of their experience on that court level.

The applications for the judgeship are public record and can be viewed on the county’s website at www.washingtoncountytn.org. On the home page, there is a “law and justice” link on the left, then click on “sessions court” and then choose “judgeship applications.”

Commissioners will hold a special called meeting Jan. 3 at 10 a.m. to select the judge.

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