Carter judge orders change in releasing of arrest warrants, other paperwork

John Thompson • Feb 7, 2013 at 10:16 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Arrest warrants and other court papers for the Carter County General Sessions Court and Juvenile Court are no longer being distributed to the normal record-keeping channels.

A general order issued by Sessions Court Judge John Walton to the Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday says “It is hearby ordered that the Carter County Sheriff’s Department shall release all paperwork pertaining to Carter County General Sessions Court and Carter County Juvenile Court to Lori Pierce and no other individual. This paperwork shall include, but may not be limited to arrest warrants, summonses, violations of probation, petitions, capiases and attachments.”

No reason was given in the order for the change in procedures.

Clerks in the offices of Circuit Court Clerk John Paul Mathes said they were no longer receiving the warrants and other papers that normally came to the office from the sheriff’s department after arrests are made or warrants and other papers served. Some papers are still being received from other process servers.

Mathes did not comment about the order, referring questions to County Attorney Keith Bowers Jr.

“I will be discussing this with the parties (on Friday) and I hope we can resolve this,” Bowers said. He was not able to work on the matter on Thursday because Bowers had several meetings, some in Washington County, that required his attendance.

An attempt by one attorney to obtain records was frustrated by the new order. Attorney Don Spurrell said appropriate requests were made to obtain copies of various public records kept in the regular course of business. The requests were denied by sheriff’s department personnel because of Walton’s order that the records should be given to his bench clerk (Pierce) “and to no other individual.”

Spurrell said Walton’s order was “clearly illegal” under the Open Records Act.

Last month Spurrell filed a lawsuit in an unrelated matter involving Walton. In the suit, Spurrell is representing Acie Lee Justus, who was jailed by Walton on a contempt charge. Spurrell alleged in the lawsuit that Justus was one of about 50 who have been similarly treated by Walton. The lawsuit seeks to stop Walton from jailing “targeted” individuals for several days without a hearing and finally bringing them to court to “waive” their rights to counsel and a hearing.

As part of that lawsuit, Spurrell said it was his belief that Walton does not allow the court clerk to put such cases on the court’s docket for a hearing and Walton keeps documents from the court sequestered from the clerk’s office and unavailable to the public.

The lawsuit was filed in January in Chancery Court. It has not yet gone to trial.

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