Sheriff Says Probe Underway On Whether There Is Abuse Of Juror Meals; Judge Says Officers Have Been Trusted

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sheriff Jim Hammond said an Internal Affairs investigation began this week on whether there have been abuses related to meals for jurors and accompanying court officers.

"There have been allegations that too much is being spent and that food is going to the wrong people," he said.

Sheriff Hammond said the allegations came "from court personnel."

He said, "We've got a lot of people to talk to, including the judges."

The sheriff said the Criminal Court judges - Barry Steelman, Don Poole and Rebecca Stern - oversee the meal program. He said they issue vouchers when there are sequestered juries and they later review and sign off on the vouchers. Then, he said, the state pays the bill under an arrangement with the restaurant.

He stated, "It's all under the control of the judges."

But he noted that he is over Lt. Rick Hamrick, who is over the court officers and who, he said, gets and distributes the food vouchers. This week he placed Lt. Hamrick on suspension.

Judge Stern said while she has been there for 17 years that the judges have not reviewed the meal spending, but have trusted the court officers on the meal expenses.

Sheriff Hammond said, "No money changes hands. This is not about any missing money."

He said he did not have an opinion on whether places like the Boat House and Hennen's Restaurant are too ritzy for meals on the taxpayers' dime.

Judge Stern in the past has told jurors in court that their options included the Boat House and Hennen's.

Jurors have long been paid $13 per day for their service.

They also have to pay for parking - except they can get $2 off on a Republic Parking lot and can park free if they take the shuttle from the Chattanooga Choo Choo.


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