General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon said a proposal by judge candidate Hallie McFadden for a separate afternoon traffic docket is not workable.
Ms. McFadden, who is seeking the Division II seat held by Judge David Bales, defended her idea.
Judge Moon said, "I can assure you that there will be no evening docket splitting of traffic cases from criminal cases via the establishment of a third docket or night court in the General Sessions Court. The Hamilton County Commission and the City Council have emphatically said "No."
"It would be terrifically cost prohibitive. Neither the county nor the city are going to advance tax dollars to hire more district attorneys, clerks, court officers, public defenders and security to staff a third docket.
"The evening docket is the precise reason the General Sessions Court was reorganized several years ago. We eliminated midnight shift officers and second shift officers from having to come to court in the afternoon in criminal cases. We implemented an arraignment docket where we take thousands of guilty pleas annually without taking the officers off of the street. We saved thousands of dollars in overtime and are now keeping more officers on the street.
"The establishment of a night court would undo much work and destroy the highly effective reorganization that we accomplished. The Hamilton County General Sessions Court has absolutely no backlog of cases. We have very very few defendants in jail awaiting trial. All cases are resolved in our court within 120 days; this is a rule that sessions judges adhere to except in extreme cases. This factor alone is proof positive that the elimination of an afternoon trial docket or night court was essential in the successful reorganization of the court.
"Also, let me say few people will want to come downtown at night perusing for a parking place, especially women with children. Whoever is elected in August will simply have to take time to learn and understand the logistics of the court. The reoganizaton took two years to accomplish; it was a joint effort of the judges, district attorney, sheriff, county commission and both mayors. It was carefully planned and carefully implemented. None of the judges are particularly pleased with suggestions of moving the court back into a cost prohibitive framework, with terrific increased expense to taxpayers and overly burdening our police officers with more court time.
"A third docket would require many officers to appear in court two times a day. We will vehemently resist such changes that will undoubtedly take the court's progress backward.
"Judicial candidates should be very careful in their campaign promises especially when suggesting to unilaterally change the entire criminal justice system and framework of a court that would negatively impact so many government employees and taxpayers."
Ms. McFadden said, "I have been practicing law in the courtroom for more than 18 years experience. A substantial portion of my courtroom experience is in the General Sessions Court of Hamilton County. Based upon my experience over the years, I know that our General Sessions Court can be improved in several areas to better serve the citizens of Hamilton County. I have been talking about these proposals for over a year and have heard nothing but positive feedback from everyone (public officials, private citizens and police officers) who hears these proposals.
"I have several proposals for the improvement of the General Sessions Court in Hamilton County, Tennessee if I am elected judge for Division II.
"1. Traffic court hours - I am proposing a traffic docket in Sessions Court to separate the “criminal cases” (like drugs, property crimes and assaults) from speeding tickets, driver’s license and other traffic violations. Unlike the criminal cases, most of the cases in traffic court are resolved with no district attorney and no public defender. Almost all of these cases are resolved by the court with the police officers and the citizens. I am proposing an afternoon separate docket for traffic cases only (during normal working hours in the afternoons) to facilitate quicker resolutions of pending cases with less waiting time for police officers and citizens. There is no doubt that the taxpayer savings will follow the less time that officers spend in court. Furthermore, the security risks decrease when the process is less crowded. There would be no additional security demands with this docket proposal than is customarily provided while the courthouse is open since the docket would be during afternoon business hours when the Courthouse is already open.
"2. Afternoon Civil Trial Docket - Citizens who have had a civil case in General Sessions court know that our courts presently operate with trials beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays. Mondays are reserved for civil call docket and motions. These civil cases involve disputes where a person or company sues another person or company and the amount in dispute is less than $15,000.00. Normally civil cases are scheduled for trial with multiple cases set to be heard on any given day (Tuesday – Friday); however, many times the cases are resolved before trial or rescheduled and there are often times when there are no cases that carry on beyond the Noon hour. I am proposing that we establish a 1 p.m. (or 1:30 p.m.) Civil trial docket on Tuesdays – Fridays. This will allow us to try more cases with no additional expense and shorten the time that people have to wait from the time of the filing of the case until the trial. When I first began practicing law in Hamilton County, the average time between the filing of the General Sessions Court lawsuit and the trial was about four weeks; however, now it is not uncommon to have a trial date as far out as three to six months after the lawsuit is filed. My proposal for an afternoon civil court would target those times when the court clerk’s office is in session and the Courthouse is open for business but when there are no cases presently being heard for trial. This would allow us to take advantage of some “dead time” in the system to improve the efficiency of the dispute resolution process in civil cases in General Sessions Court.
"I want to say that I am very happy with the changes several years ago with the General Sessions Court. At that time, we improved the operation of the court through effective reorganization; however, our county has grown and some tweaking of the system in these areas would definitely improve the delivery of justice and legal services in our county as well as promote taxpayer savings. I have discussed these issues with other candidates who are running for local political offices as well as one Hamilton County Commissioner. Those officials and candidates with whom I have discussed these issues have all told me that they are in favor of my proposals. I hope Judge Moon will keep an open mind and consider my proposals as a positive step toward improving the efficiency of our court’s system and improving our county."
General Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck said, "Any 'tweaking' of the successful reorganization should be carefully considered only after consultation with all government agencies that may be impacted."
He said judges "many times work through the lunch hour to accomodate litigants and attorneys in civil cases. Many times when our civil dockets are completed, we assist those judges hearing the tremendous volumes of criminal cases. This is especially true in assisting other judges in traffic cases."
He said judges have a number of duties off the bench that must be completed such as considering petitions for suspended sentences, furlough requests, returning calls, issuing arrest and search warrants, meeting with attorneys, officers and citizens, rescheduling cases and hundreds of mental health petitions and hearings which are primarily held at Moccasin Bend Hosptial.