Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has launched efforts to redraw the state’s judicial districts. The Blountville Republican told reporters in February that now is the time to undertake the process because judicial offices (judges, district attorneys general and public offenders) will be on the ballot next year.
The lieutenant governor hopes to have proposed new district lines ready for consideration this month. There are currently 31 judicial districts in Tennessee, which haven’t been changed since 1984.
State officials have sent letters to local judges, prosecutors and other officers of the court asking for their input into the process. As Press staff writer Becky Campbell reported recently, one judge in our own 1st District (which is comprised of Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties) has expressed some reservations with a plan to make Washington County its own judicial district. That would leave Carter, Johnson and Unicoi counties as one distinct district.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Seeley Jr. has written a letter to state lawmakers letting them know he thinks that is a bad idea. He notes there are unknown administrative costs and logistical headaches associated with the plan, and says the “one-size fits all” formula of splitting the district would not prove beneficial to residents of our area.
“It may well be that some districts need to be changed, but the 1st Judicial District has worked fine as it is for the 28 years that I have been a circuit judge and it is certainly going to cost the state quite a bit yearly to separate our district,” Seeley wrote.
The judge is correct to point out that the costs associated with separating Washington County from the current 1st District have been greatly underestimated. We cannot, however, agree with Seeley on the political geography of the plan. Seeley is right when he says most elected judicial officials of the 1st District do now live in a county other than Washington, but that should have little bearing on determining what is best for area residents.
We would hope state legislators will consider the very valid points Seeley has raised concerning the added costs of removing Washington County from the current 1st District and leave politics out of the discussion.