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Task force says more resources needed for state judicial system

Robert Houk • Jan 19, 2020 at 5:02 PM

After nearly a year of study, a special panel charged with reviewing the structure of Tennessee’s justice system has concluded that no statewide redrawing of judicial districts is needed.

Even so, the Advisory Task Force on Composition of Judicial Districts has proposed that the 21st Judicial District be modified, with Williamson County — in fast-growing Middle Tennessee — separated from Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties and made into a stand-alone judicial district. 

The task force is not recommending any other changes to judicial district lines in Tennessee. It came to that conclusion after holding five public hearings across the state.

The Tennessee General Assembly created the task force in 2018 to study the makeup of the state’s current 31 judicial districts. The alignment of those districts — which covers all of Tennessee’s 95 counties — have remained unchanged since they were created in 1984.

Each judicial district in the state has a Circuit Court and Chancery Court, as well as an elected public defender and district attorney general. Eleven districts also have Criminal Courts, and two have Probate Courts.

State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said the task force’s report should be a starting point for debate on justice reform in Tennessee.

“Our justice system is the envy of most states, and should be looked at routinely,” said Lundberg, a member of the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee, which will hear the recommendations of the task force. 

While the task force has not recommended any changes to the lines of judicial districts in Northeast Tennessee, Lundberg said its report does suggest the state allocate more resources for prosecutors and public defenders across the state.

Specifically, the panel has suggested new positions for assistant district attorney generals and assistant public defenders be created based on recommendations from their respective conferences.

“We need to take both growing population and caseloads into consideration,” Lundberg said.

The task force has recommended that future caseload studies include district attorneys general and public defenders. Because of population growth, the task force has also suggested the General Assembly “should consider devoting more resources to Tennessee’s judicial system.”

And the task force recommends three new judgeships be created, one each in the 19th, 22nd and 23rd judicial districts.

Ken Baldwin, the 1st Judicial District attorney general, said his office is in need of additional prosecutors to handle growing case loads in Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties. He said more people are committing crimes these days as a result of their drug addictions.

 And Baldwin said methamphetamines has become the drug of choice for many criminals.

“Few other drugs put people out of control like methamphetamines,” Baldwin said.

The district attorney general said it takes an act of the General Assembly to create a new position in his office. Baldwin said the state attorneys general conference has heard that just four new assistant DA positions are slated to be approved for the entire state this year.

“We (the 1st District) have not gotten a new position since 2014,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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