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Man suing Sessions Court judge has his day in court

John Thompson • Oct 15, 2013 at 3:36 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A man who filed lawsuit against Sessions Court Judge John Walton in Chancery Court in January had a good day in Walton’s court Monday.

Acie Lee Justus was in court, but Washington County Sessions Judge James Nidiffer heard the case and three other cases that defense attorney Don Spurrell had in the court Monday. Emily Smith, an assistant district attorney in the Second Judicial District in Sullivan County, stood in for the state in the matter.

As soon as the case began, Smith said “after we reviewed the case, we move to dismiss.”

Nidiffer ordered the dismissal and was going to reset the case for a hearing on fines and costs owed by Justus.

Spurrell immediately argued that Justus is no longer on probation and asked under what jurisdiction the court could hold a hearing on fines and costs.

“If they want to file a civil action, they are welcome,” Spurrell said.

Nidiffer said he had looked at the case file and could not determine if Justus was still on probation. Justice said he had flattened his sentence a long time ago.

Nidiffer then agreed that a civil action was appropriate.

Spurrell was not as successful on the second case of the day, a charge of a second violation of probation for Jacob Alan Range. The charge was for a new conviction Range received in Washington County on marijuana possession. His first violation was for failure to pass a drug screen while on probation at Cross-Roads in Carter County.

Spurrell said the original charge was for vandalism. He asked Range about the incident. Range said he had broken the window of his own bedroom when he was 18. Spurrell asked Range how much he had paid in fines, court costs and probation fees as a result of his conviction. Range, who is turning 20, said it has cost him more than $1,200. His latest problem was a result of the Washington County arrest on marijuana possession. Although he was charged with a misdemeanor, prosecutor Mark Hill said he was caught with 77.2 grams.

Spurrell spoke of procedures used in federal court to determine sentencing. “All we are asking the court to do is fashion a sentence that meets the parameters,” Spurrell said.

Hill responded by saying he did not have the luxury of federal court graphs and sentencing reports. He asked Range if he wanted to be treated like everyone else.

Nidiffer decided that Range should be treated like everyone else. He sentenced Range to 109 days, minus 30 days, for a total of 79 days.

The third case heard by Nidiffer was more complicated. Joshua Guess was charged with a second offense of violation of probation because of failure to pay his fines, costs and fees.

Spurrell argued that Guess had been in jail and did not have the ability to make payments. The exact time of his incarceration was not immediately known, but probation records indicated he had been in jail from June 15, 2012, until Feb. 28. Spurrell said Guess did not willfully fail to make his payments. He moved for acquittal.

Hill asked probation officer Cindy Brooks about Guess’ payment history. Brooks said Guess had a 40-hour per week job at a golf course from April or May until he suffered an injury later in the summer. She said he never made a payment during the time he was employed. With that information, Nidiffer denied Spurrell’s motion for acquittal.

While the judge did see a wilful failure to pay during the time of his employment, Nidiffer said the warrant charging him with a violation of probation for failing to pay all his fines and costs was dated April 22, when Guess had only been working for about a week.

Nidiffer dismissed the charge against Guess.

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