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Q&A session sheds light on Sessions Court candidates

April 21st, 2014 10:21 pm by Becky Campbell

Q&A session sheds light on Sessions Court candidates

This year, incumbent Sessions Court Judge Don Arnold, top left, will be challenged by Republicans Russell Kloosterman, top right, and Will Monk, bottom left, and independent candidate Stephanie Sherwood.

Until 2012, there were only two Washington County General Sessions judges to handle misdemeanor hearings, probable cause felony case hearings and juvenile court. After a number of years with the two sitting judges, Judge James Nidiffer and Judge Robert Lincoln requested help to handle the overburdened docket and the Washington County Commission funded a third position.

Following a selection process, Don Arnold was appointed to the Sessions Part III position in early 2012. State law requires an appointee must run for election to their position in the next general election. Ahead of that is the Republican primary in May, which includes judicial races this year.

Arnold is defending his seat against three local attorneys. Russell Kloosterman, Will Monk and Stephanie Sherwood all have eyes for the judgeship. Sherwood is running as an Independent candidate so her name will not appear on the primary ballot. She will be on the general election ballot in August running against the winner of the May Republican primary.

“I hope to be elected to continue my work with the new Drug Court offering hope for a fresh start to non-violent offenders with addiction problems,” Arnold said. He helped create the Drug Court to address what leaders deemed to be a growing problem in the county.

Arnold’s campaign slogan, “Experience That Can Do Justice,” represents what he says is his ability to provide firm and fair justice in the courtroom.

Kloosterman said his goals, if elected, are to provide “prompt and just resolution” to all legal issues. The public needs to have confidence in its judges, he added.

“The public can trust me in that role because I have proven myself a strong advocate for working families, their children, the labor force, teachers and local businessmen,” Kloosterman said. “I am running because I have a passion to help and serve the children and their families of Washington County. I have served close to 1,000 children and their families in our community.”

Monk said he believes a judge should adhere to constitutional protections and will strive to “ensure that all procedural and substantive rights are provided for on a consistent and unbiased basis, regardless of the issues in a case or who the parties may be.”

Monk has been with the District Attorney’s Office for 10 years.

“Through my experience as prosecutor in the criminal, juvenile and child support arenas, I have come to believe that numerous factors must be evaluated in each and every case. An emphasis on personal responsibility and victim rights, tempered by family restabilization in domestic and civil matters as well as rehabilitative efforts for the criminally convicted, are all necessary in the just resolution of the vast majority of cases,” he said.

Sherwood said her five years as the Associate Municipal Court Judge for Johnson City has given her a chance to prove herself from the bench.

“And now I am ready to bring my experience and passion to all of Washington County,” she said. “Our county deserves judges who are competent, passionate and fair. The responsibility is a serious one.”

Sherwood said she will treat all defendants and litigants with humanity and put the law first in making decision.

“In my role as Sessions Court judge in juvenile matters, I will never waiver in my determination to protect and fairly adjudicate the most vulnerable in our community,” she said. “If elected, I will bring fresh perspective to the bench along with my earnest respect for the law.”

Early voting began April 16 and continues until May 1. The primary is May 6.

Below are three questions the Press asked the four candidates for General Sessions Judge:

How will you address the growing docket in Sessions Court?

ARNOLD:

This problem has already been addressed, in my opinion, by the creation of a third judgeship at the beginning of 2013. The statistics indicate that in the last fiscal year there was not a significant increase in the number of cases filed in General Sessions Court. For example, in cases involving civil matters, the filings decreased by 772 cases for the year ending June 30, 2013. (There were 5,171 filings for the year ending June 30, 2012, and 4,399 filings for the year ending June 30, 2013.) There was an increase in the number of criminal cases filed during the same period by 1,100. (11,946 criminal cases were filed for the period ending June 30, 2013, and 10,846 criminal cases filed for the period ending June 30, 2012.) There were 46 fewer cases filed this past year in Juvenile Court than the previous year. (711 juvenile cases filed for the period ending June 30, 2013, and 757 juvenile cases filed for the period ending June 30, 2012.) The totality of the filings for the past two years indicate an increase of only 282 new filings out of a total of approximately 17,056 filings. The slight growth of the docket does not indicate a significant problem at this time, and I feel it can be dealt with utilizing our present resources.

KLOOSTERMAN:

I think the addition of the third judge position has had a positive effect on the growing docket in regards to reducing the large dockets that had been present prior to its creation. As society grows, it will be important that all three judges of the General Sessions Courts work together in the development and management of the dockets while working with the Clerk of the Courts to oversee its success and efficiency. To me it’s all about teamwork.

MONK:

I will make myself available for a full court docket five days per week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or until all the cases for that day are concluded, regardless of what particular type of cases I was originally given that day. Further, I would not be opposed to conducting an evening or night docket if the case load required it and if it could be worked out with everyone involved.

SHERWOOD:

Expediting the docket begins with keeping continuances of cases to an absolute minimum. If a case has been reset twice, I would need a compelling reason to grant another reset. If the parties are present and prepared, then they need to resolve it or try it. The judge sets the tone for the court and when this expectation is established, the parties can prepare accordingly.

Are there changes you would like to implement, other than docket management, to help the court run more efficiently?

ARNOLD:

Unfortunately, the needed changes cannot be made without the assistance of budgetary changes by the State. The General Sessions Court is a unique court because very little negotiation occurs prior to disposition, especially involving criminal cases. This is because of a shortage of personnel in both the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office. Both offices do an excellent job with the resources available to them. However, while negotiations occur, the court is in a holding pattern and efficiency suffers as a result. This necessitates court sessions lasting longer than would be necessary if proper personnel were available and also results in unnecessary waiting time by people utilizing the court. It would be helpful if we could stagger our starting times so the public would not need to spend nearly as long in the courtroom. This is a matter I am now researching and would probably require the creation of a computer program that would aid in this endeavor.

KLOOSTERMAN:

I believe the new developing mental health court and the drug court are going to prove to be an asset to the courts, the defendants, the victims and the general public at large. I would work toward advancing these courts and looking for other court programs that would assist and benefit not only the courts, but society as well.

MONK:

Cases set for trial or preliminary hearing need more attention than cases that are set as an initial appearance or status hearing. A separate listing of trial/preliminary hearing cases will be made. Court will open by calling those cases first to see who is present and a deadline will be given for plea entry otherwise a hearing will be conducted. Also, if General Session’s criminal defendants plead guilty then I would proceed to sentencing unless the State requested a chance to address sentencing with the defendant or if the State wanted an opportunity to be heard on sentencing then both sides would be heard.

SHERWOOD:

Sessions Court moves most efficiently when it is staffed with attorneys and judges who can think and act quickly. It is a cooperative effort between the prosecutors, clerks and private attorneys to keep this very busy court moving at healthy pace. As judge, I would strive for consistency and even application of the law. Attorneys, litigants, and defendants should know what to expect when they walk into court. In my court, they should expect me to know the law and to set a high bar for professionalism.

What makes you the best candidate for this job?

ARNOLD:

Experience. I have been sitting as General Sessions judge since Jan. 3, 2013, and have gained invaluable experience in that time. Martindale-Hubbell is recognized as the leading ranking publication for lawyers. I have been selected AV Preeminent for 35 years. This is the highest possible peer review rating in legal ability and ethical standards.

Gov. Don Sundquist appointed me to sit as a special justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1998. I was appointed by the Supreme Court to sit on their Advisory Committee for Criminal and Civil Rules. This committee, comprised of 26 lawyers, judges and other court officials, made recommendations to the Tennessee Supreme Court about proposed rules and changes in the rules. This position provided excellent insight into the reason for and the necessity for each individual rule as it is adopted or amended.

KLOOSTERMAN:

Being fair, consistent and respectful. I have always strived to exemplify these qualities in my personal and public life. You see me and you already know me. My integrity, hard work ethics and my ability to evaluate cases is another asset to come to the bench. I am the only candidate that regularly practices the three courts of the General Sessions, which includes knowing juvenile law, Sessions criminal law and sessions civil law. Each court and the areas of law they serve is unique and a judge should have a basic understanding of each. Further, I am a man who believes in being connected to my community and have strived to be involved in my community through volunteer service work. To me, being the next judge would not only be an honor but would be a way for me to further serve my community.

MONK:

I have been a public servant to the citizens of Tennessee since 2003. I became an assistant district attorney here in the First Judicial District and primarily Washington County in 2004. I enjoy being a public servant even though the job can be hectic. Sessions is high volume work, and I have a history of handling high-volume caseloads and still being fair, reasonable and above all, just. I have been in the trenches in child support enforcement and Session’s criminal where the volume and numbers can be overwhelming and have gained the respect of all involved in those arenas. I also enjoy being the assistant DA assigned to juvenile delinquent cases in both Washington County and Johnson City Juvenile Courts. Juvenile delinquent matters are some of the most important cases a General Sessions judge hears because in each one there is an opportunity to improve the life of the juvenile and a chance to prevent that juvenile from carrying on illegal conduct into adulthood. As an assistant DA, I take my duty to do justice very serious and have always strived to do justice for all in whichever arena I appear. My practice of doing justice in these arenas as an assistant DA makes me the best candidate for General Sessions Court judge.

SHERWOOD:

My experience as associate Municipal Court judge for Johnson City and as a legal practitioner in eight counties demonstrates that I have the technical skills and competency for the job. That is crucial. A good judge also works cordially with her colleagues and puts ego aside for the greater good of the community she serves. Personality, presence and integrity are part of that recipe too. I am the best candidate for the job because I will do the best job.

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