On Tuesday, May 21, Judge Paty and myself attended the City Council budget meeting. We did discuss our budget but there was never any mention of getting rid of the City Court until after we left. I really wish they would have ask for our input while we were there.
It appears to me that the first people you would want to ask about this issue would be the City Judges.
If I had been asked, I would have pointed out that all major cities who have a City Police Department and a City Fire Department have a City Court. This is so their citizens have a forum to be heard in open court.
Several of the Council Members kept asking whether or not the City Court and its clerks are making money or losing money. I do appreciate the government checking on each department's spending. However, we as a Court are not in the business to make money. We are a Court to hear the cases and have a forum for justice. All of these agencies that the Court works with cost money. The Police Department costs money; the Fire Department costs money; the library costs money. These are functions of government that are paid for through city expenditures.
By some of Council persons' logic they feel if you do away with the Court you could have other agencies to hear the cases. This is not plausible. I estimate that I have already tried approximately 500 automobile accident cases in 2019. This does not include Judge Paty's Court Division. If there is no Court, who is going to handle these cases? Plus Sessions Court does not have jurisdiction to hear City Ordinances. The Sessions Court is certainly not going to handle them. They handle State Criminal cases and they have civil jurisdiction. The city has appointed hearing officers for the Environmental Court but they could not appoint a hearing officer to hear traffic cases. These traffic cases deal with City Ordinances that were adopted through State Statues. These cases deal with traffic punishment including the loss of driver's license; insurance issues plus injuries and deaths from accidents. Through this City Court System young drivers are sent to traffic school.
It is rather frustrating to go to our schools and lecture students on safe driving; to hear all of these accident cases and other traffic-related cases and put a lot of effort into these matters and then when you leave the room they start talking about doing away with the Court.
So if the council is going to talk about doing away with City Court, I would appreciate them talking to Judge Paty and myself.
Russell Bean, Judge
Chattanooga City Court