County attorney: Carter Sessions Court controversy may be over

John Thompson • Feb 8, 2013 at 9:27 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A controversy appears to have been resolved Friday night in Carter County that involved Carter County General Sessions Court Judge John Walton. The controversy centered on a general order Walton issued to the sheriff’s department, directing all warrants and court papers for General Sessions and Juvenile Court to be delivered solely to his bench clerk and to no one else.

“I believe all issues were resolved late today,” Carter County Attorney Keith Bowers Jr. said Friday night.

Bowers said Walton will issue a new order on Monday morning. “It should make clear what the judge’s intentions were.”

The original order issued Wednesday said: “It is hereby ordered that the Carter County Sheriff’s Department shall release any 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, summons, violations of probation, petitions, capiases and attachments.”

“I can see how the order could be interpreted a different way (than the judge intended)” Bowers said.

Bowers began working on a resolution early Friday morning. He was not able to work on the matter on Thursday because he had several unrelated meetings scheduled throughout the day, some in Johnson City.

“I met with the judge this morning and went over this with with him,” Bowers said Friday. “I issued my opinion to him and I thought we could resolve it.”

Because Walton had a long docket, on Friday, Bowers said that “out of respect to him” he did not seek a quicker resolution during the morning. Walton was able to deliberate on the matter and Bowers’ opinion after court was adjourned.

Bowers was prepared to issue opinions to the sheriff and the Circuit Court clerk on Monday if the controversy was not resolved.

Walton’s eventful Friday began with Clerk and Master Melissa Moreland serving him with a petition filed in Chancery Court late Thursday afternoon by Johnson City attorneys Don Spurrell and Casey Sears II asking Chancellor Richard Johnson to grant “unfettered access to any and all public records housed within the Carter County Sheriff’s Department.” It also asked the court to enjoin any future attempts by Walton to issue any orders purporting to restrict public access to public records.”

It has yet to be determined if Walton’s revised order on Monday will make the petition moot.

Spurrell and Sears said in the petition that they made appropriate requests of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office to obtain copies of various public records kept in the regular course of business. The attorneys said their requests were denied by personnel of the sheriff’s office, citing Walton’s general order.

The procedure in which the public could obtain court papers remained unclear on Friday. Workers in the Circuit Court Clerk’s office said they could help with court records filed before Walton’s order, but they were not sure of the procedures to follow in obtaining the latest paperwork.

Walton was still presiding over his court during the afternoon when the Johnson City Press attempted to obtain records. There was no one in his chambers to provide assistance. There were no instructions posted on how the public could obtain copies of documents.

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