Sat
Feb 4 2006
12:14 pm

Despite the sessions courts being without a full staff of judges for the past year, County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has identified a "crisis" in the sessions court system requiring and emergency appointment of a new sessions judge. The "crisis" in the session court was not mentioned when county commission met last month and did not make any effort to appoint a person to fill that unoccupied position. 

Many observers view Ragsdale's efforts to have the position filled now via appointment as his personal effort to give prosecutor Andy Jackson a leg up on others vying for the position in the upcoming election.  Various officials at the courthouse have indicated Andy Jackson was without any appreciable fundraising apparatus and without a core political campaign organization and the efforts by Ragsdale were to create a crisis and then appoint his selected candidate, giving Andy Jackson access to fundraising as an incumbent and possibly deter others from seeking the position. 

Ragsdale is under a critical time constraint as the county commission is not scheduled to meet again until after the qualifying deadline for the judgeship, hastening his letter to Scooby Moore to call for  a special meeting to make the appointment.  Ragsdale has been joined in this effort to influence the judicial selection process by Randy Nichols and Pubic Defender Mark Stephens, neither of which appear with any regularity in Sessions Court, in an effort to rework judicial selection prior to the upcoming elections.  From all indications, lawyers Chad Tindell and Jimmy Kyle Davis are significantly ahead of Jackson in both fund raising and in organizing campaign operations. 

At no time during the period in which the courts have been short staffed has anyone indicated a "crisis" existed and the other judges have pulled the extra effort to keep the dockets up to date and within the state and federal laws governing speedy trials for those accused of crimes.  County commission has avoided making any selections of a new sessions judge so as to avoid offending their own constituency in their own upcoming races for re-election this year.   

S Carpenter's picture

You know not

... of what you speak.

When there is no judge to hear a case, it has to be rescheduled. A weekly docket of Sessions Court handles hundreds of cases. For every defendant called to court there is an alleged victim or victims or police officer or officers. A DA handles the case and hopefully a lawyer shows up to defend the defendant. Do the math and calculate the problems created when 20% of the criminal cases in Knox County are needlessly delayed.

But forget the delay and aggravation to the average citizen, whether they appear as a victim or the accused. You say this is a political trick? Well, it's a very elaborate and long planned one if so.

Knox County has been before U.S. Federal Judge Jarvis on show cause contempt proceedings since October 2002 over jail overcrowding. One of the many causes of jail overcrowding is that pre-trial detainees can't get to court because there isn't a judge to hear their case.

If retired Judge Waggoner's felony, misdemeanor or DUI sessions rotation is not occurring (because there is no judge) then guess who sits in jail until the case can be rescheduled? Yesterday, Friday, 2/3/06, there were 21 people sitting in jail waiting on their hearing in Misdemeanor Court alone (forget Felony and DUI). If the Judge isn't there then that's 21 people that sit in jail and push the jail population upward and possibly over the cap.

If Knox County is over the cap, Judge Jarvis will fine the County. For over three years, the Sheriff, DA, PD and Judges have met in attempts to make the system faster and more efficient. Progess has been made but the empty judge's seat in Sessions is a setback.

In February, 2005, before Judge Waggoner retired, the KNS reported Public Defender Mark Stephens as saying: "The Sessions Court system is operating at absolutely capacity," Stephens said. "You cannot push the system any harder...." Private attorney Pat Phillips stated in the same article, "The only way to speed up the [Sessions] docket is to double the number of judges, and that's a money issue."

It's the County Commission's job to keep the County running and that requires 5 Sessions Court judges. With Judge Waggoner having now retired, 8 months is too long months with an empty bench and a too full jail.

Your claim is so full of crap, no wonder you won't sign your name.

 

S Carpenter
KO's picture

I second Scott's

I second Scott's observations.  Politics aside, the general sessions courts need to be fully staffed.  I had a case down there last week and they were resetting everything, which really inconveniences the lawyers, police officers, and witnesses/victims.  To avoid any allegations of political shenanigans like the one in Old Hickory's post, I would favor appointing a "caretaker" judge who promises not to run for the position in the next election.

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Bbeanster's picture

From the political side

While Andy Jackson is a very nice guy, he's likely to meet a nice guy's fate and finish last when County Commission gets around to appointing a new judge. Neither he nor Nichols has that kind of stroke with the GOBs, so it's beyond unlikely that he would be appointed. My sense of the Commission is that Scoobie (who supports JKD) took his best shot, but most of his colleagues are sick of being pressured by the Davis supporters -- hence the 11-8 vote not to put it on last month's agenda. I think the majority would prefer to appoint a caretaker, and will do so this month. There's talk of Andy Evans (a very bad idea, IMO) Getting this appointment would be a windfall for any candidate, and would amount to getting subsidized to campaign.
Bill Young's picture

Who is for who in this

Who is for who in this judge's deal I'm not sure BUT I do know that Judge Waggner is for Jackson  & she created the backlog by holding the court hostage & not retiring sooner,like last summer. When the judge finally got around to announcing her retirment,in the fall,the judge held off when it looked like Quist had the 10 votes on county commission to be appointed.
Bbeanster's picture

Who Waggoner wanted to succeed her

really doesn't have any bearing on the present issue -- or shouldn't. The issue facing Commission is whether to appoint one of the announced candidates for the job, thereby influencing the upcoming election by allowing one of the candidates to run as an incumbent with a salary, or to appoint a "caretaker" and not taint the election. Making Davis, Tindell, Bailey and Jackson all run as non-incumbents would level the playing field, which is something we all want in a democracy, right?
Bill Young's picture

I agree but I wanted to make

I agree but I wanted to make the point that the backlog in the court has been an on going problem.The commission should have appointed an individual,that is not running, to the court as soon as the judge finally retired.The commission likes to do these things quick & Quist moved fast & I belive had the votes but the Judge delayed retirment.Now the commission is fractured:1.Don't blame me I was for Quist.2.The Jackson's singing I love a bar poll.3.Jimmy Kyle's wrecking crew 4. Let's eat.....GO STEELERS!!!

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