The five Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judges issued a joint Order Thursday mandating that the assignment of all cases shall be randomly by a county computer only.
Court officials said the order was aimed at avoiding "judge shopping" and to establish an impartial assignment of court cases.
The directive comes after a flap over the handling of a case involving the son of Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell and two other 19-year-olds. In that case Chief Magistrate Larry Ables said he moved up the case at the request of the families.
Judge Clarence Shattuck, said, "I am not certain of all of the logistics and decisions made pursuant to the dismissed cases in issue as they refer to a computer assignment. However, I am certain that the order that we have all approved and signed today should clarify and mandate the procedure which we expect to be followed in the assignment of cases to specific judges. The assignment of cases by computer was a central focus of our reorganization approximately six years ago."
Judge Bob Moon said, "Transparency and equality are the cornerstones of our judicial system. We have entered this order today not only to clarify and to ensure the impartiality of case assignment, but equally important to restore the public's trust in our local judicial system."
Judge David Bales said, "The reorganization of the court was effectuated before I assumed my duties as a Sessions Court judge. However, I have always assumed that the systematic assignment of cases to specific divisions of the court was always by a random computer entry.
"The conflicting news reports of who and how the cases in issue were assigned are disturbing. I believe that the new order should remove all doubts about the impartiality of the assignment of cases filed in the General Sessions Court."
Judge Moon said, "A major concern within our offices and the offices of the Hamilton County District Attorney General during the reorganization of the court was an imminent need for a systematic and impartial assignment of cases. The computer assignment of cases was implemented to avoid 'judge shopping.'
"It was also our desire to keep repeat criminal offenders assigned to the same judge. However, in view of the recent controversy and published inconsistencies of the procedural assignments of the cases in issue, we felt compelled to issue a new order strictly prohibiting the 'override' of a computer assignment in all cases by a magistrate, clerk or any other person."
The judges added that any person violating the order is subject to contempt which carries a $50 fine plus court costs and up to 10 days in jail. Offenders could also be facing a more serious charge of obstructing justice, they said.
The judges said the order specifically exempts traffic citations. Judge Bales said, "Traffic offense citations follow the court assigned schedules of the officer. The officers assign the court dates when they issue the traffic tickets." Judge Moon said, "The order specifically states that the mandated computer assignments relate only to the cases "currently assigned" and procedures "previously established". These include all affidavit of complaints and warrants issued by the judges and magistrates. We have not really changed anything. We have simply mandated by order the procedure for the assignment of cases that was included in the reorganization of the court several years ago."
The order was also signed by Judges Christie Sell and Ron Durby.
IN THE HAMILTON COUNTY GENERAL SESSIONS COURT AT
IN RE LOCAL RULE: ASSIGNMENT OF COURT CASES ) ALL DIVISIONS
O R D E R
The Hamilton County General Sessions Court, all Divisions, having heretofore
reorganized the procedural operations of the Court to ensure the timely, fair and efficient
administration of justice and to ensure the due process of all persons coming before the
ORDERS, DECLARES AND DECREES:
1. That all cases filed in the Hamilton County General Sessions Court, Criminal Divisions shall be assigned to the appropriate judge exclusively through the computers operated by Hamilton County and currently established to assign such cases;
2. That no case shall be assigned to any judge of the Hamilton County General Sessions Court by any clerk, magistrate or any other person except through computer assignment as previously established;
3. That the provisions of this Order are mandatory, under penalty of law, and can only be waived by the express written consent of a judge in circumstances limited to emergencies or with the consent of the judge to whom a case has been properly assigned through the approved and established computer assignment.
ENTERED THIS 6th DAY OF AUGUST, 2009.
Judge Christie Sell
Judge David Bales
Judge Bob Moon
Judge Clarence Shattuck
Judge Ron Durby