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By C. BRENT KEETON
President, Coffee County Bar Association
A meeting was held by the Coffee County Bar Association on March 4, 2013 to discuss the proposed judicial redistricting. The matter was discussed in detail. By a unanimous vote, the Coffee County Bar Association is against judicial redistricting. The following are some of the main reasons that we oppose the proposed judicial redistricting.
First, redistricting will not fix any identifiable problem. Nothing is “broken,” thus, nothing needs to be fixed. This association knows of no one who has asked for or sees the necessity for redistricting. A recent legislative study came to the same conclusion. In 2007, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office awarded a contract to the Justice Management Institute (JMI) and the Center for Justice, Law, and Society (CJLS) at George Mason University, to conduct a study of potential judicial redistricting. Several hundred thousand dollars were expended to study the judicial redistricting of the State of Tennessee. The findings from the study were released in April 2009. Based on the data collected and an analysis of it, the report said “JMI does not recommend that judicial redistricting occur at this time.” Although not defined in Tennessee by state law, the criteria used in the study included caseload per judge, weighted caseload, and population as the key factors to determine proper judicial boundaries. Using these criteria, JMI found slight differences in a handful of districts, but none of a significant magnitude to turn the system “on its head” and warrant redistricting. There is nothing substantial or insubstantial that has changed in the last several years. Thus, it was a waste of taxpayer money to obtain this study and not follow its findings. Once again, if there is nothing broken, it is not in need of being changed or “fixed.”
Second, the proposed redistricting would result in less access to the judicial system and would not be a benefit to Tennesseans across our great State. Our system does not exist for the benefit of judges, district attorney, public defenders, or for lawyers. It is for the benefit of the people. Moreover, specifically as to the Fourteenth Judicial District encompassing Coffee County, one proposal put forward by Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s office, would extend the district to the Kentucky line to include Macon County. This would be a round trip of approximately 180 miles and would be 4 hours of total travel time from Manchester to Lafayette. Such a setup will cause much longer time for litigants to be heard in court from the time of filing to the time of trial or from arrest to the time of trial, as it will create a backlog of cases. This is just one of the potential effects of having such an enormous district. Further, the amount of time spent traveling and servicing counties hours away could also prevent worthwhile programs such as drug court and mental health court, which have seen great success in recent years. It will also create turmoil in the system, as it will terminate long standing relationships between law enforcement agencies and investigative services that will take years to readjust. There are obviously only a set amount of hours in the day, and the proposed redistricting would have the judges, district attorneys, and public defenders spending a great deal of time on long distance travel. This will also be a great inconvenience to litigants and the public at large.
Third, this will have an adverse economic impact across the State of Tennessee in an already struggling economy. As stated by Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Seeley Jr. of the 1st Judicial District, a conservative estimate to his district alone will be additional cost of $700,000. Such increased costs will be seen across the State of Tennessee. There could also be a significant cost of unemployment benefits paid to certain law enforcement and government legal staffs that could potentially lose their employment if district lines are redrawn. Why are we going to spend more money on a problem that we do not have? Are we going to ask Tennesseans to pay more taxes to attempt to fix these unnecessary impacts? We do not believe this will sit well with our citizenry.
In conclusion, we would ask for your support against the measure to redistrict the current judicial districts. Thank you.
The members of the Coffee County Bar Association include the following individuals: Doug Aaron, Kevin Askren, Dr. Ralph Bard, Roger Bean, Jeremy Bell, General Sessions Judge Timothy Brock, Charlotte Broyles, Elizabeth Bowling, Jonathan Bunn, Eric Burch, Robert T. Carter, Bob Croy, Cynthia Cheatham, Cathy Conley, James Conley, Christian Duncan, Gerald L. Ewell, Jr., Norman Feaster, Caren C. Gabriel, Richard W. Gabriel, Michael Giffin, Terry Gregory, J. Brad Hannah, Russell Hedges, Jim Henry, Tracey Hershman, Marla Holloway, Jason Huskey, Robert Huskey, Circuit Judge Vanessa L. Jackson, Circuit Judge L. Craig Johnson, C. Brent Keeton, Margo Kilgore, Tommy Kirkpatrick, John LaBar, Jim Lane, District Attorney Michael C. Layne, General Sessions Judge Jere Ledsinger, Lisa Lee, Stacy Lynch, Clifton Miller, Rick Moore, Randall Morrison, Walter F. Nichols, Ed North, Craig Northcott, H. Thomas Parsons, Jeremy Parham, Greg B. Perry, Laura Pickering, Jason Ponder, Joshua C. Powell, Karen Price, Donald L. Ray, Timothy Reed, William C. Rieder, Jeffrey Ridner, J. Stanley Rogers, Garth Segroves, Jeff Schofill, Kenneth J. Shelton, Marcus Simmons, Bradley Eldridge-Smith, Public Defender Campbell Smoot, Chris Stanford, Christina Stanford, James Stephens, Jess Stockwell, James Threet, Shawn Trail, Frank Van Cleave, Felicia Walkup, Kristy West, Trenena Wilcher, Mark Williams, Stephen Worsham,