If a new judicial redistricting plan is approved by the state legislature as proposed, DeKalb County would no longer be part of the current make up of the 13th Judicial District, which also includes Clay, Cumberland, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, and White Counties.
Under the proposed plan, Van Buren County would join the 13th district and DeKalb County would become part of a new eight county district which also includes Macon, Trousdale, Smith, Jackson, Cannon, Warren, and Coffee Counties. For DeKalb, that would mean a different set of judges, District Attorney General, and District Public Defender from those that currently serve the county.
The 13th Judicial district has three trial courts including the Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Courts. The district is served by Criminal Court Judges Leon Burns, Jr. and David Patterson, Circuit Court Judges John Maddux and Amy Hollars, and Chancellor Ronald Thurman. The District Attorney General is Randy York and the District Public Defender is David Brady. All these officials are either from Cookeville, Crossville or Livingston.
State Senate speaker, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey said he wants the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine judicial districting and ways the legal system can operate more efficiently and effectively. He noted that the last judicial redistricting occurred nearly 30 years ago in 1984.
"We desperately need to take a fresh look at this judicial map statewide to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders," said Lt. Governor Ramsey.
DeKalb County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook II, President of the local bar, said none of the local attorneys like this proposed move. Judge Cook plans to talk with WJLE more indepth on this subject later in the week.
State Representative Mark Pody, during a visit to Smithville Friday, said he believes something should be done and Lieutenant Governor Ramsey wants all proposed plans in for consideration within thirty days. "We are looking at redistricting of judicial districts. That is a huge issue. I'm going to tell you flat out that what we have isn't working," said Pody. "We've got thirty one districts and some of the wait times for example for a court case could be seventeen months depending on what district its in. I know cases where someone wants to get a divorce and they can't get a time to even get in front of a judge for over a year. That's just too long. Or if somebody commits a crime, if it takes over a year, that's not a speedy trial. We have to pay about sixty dollars per day (per prisoner) to hold those people in prison. That's what the cost is to the state. If we're paying sixty dollars per day just holding them until they go to trial, I think we could save some of that money if we could redo this (redistricting) and make our court (wait) times much shorter," said Pody
"The (redistricting) map I have seen is going from thirty one districts down to twenty nine districts. I'm not comfortable reducing the number of districts. That doesn't make sense to me," said Pody. " But Coffee County is a district unto itself. So we have to redo it (redistricting) so it is more equitable across the state. There are some areas that seem to be working very well with no back load but there are areas where there is a big back load. I'm hoping that the DA's, the judges, and all the interested parties will come together and help draw the map. Right now they are very open to looking at opportunities. I'd like to keep us at the thirty one districts. I think that even though its more than the twenty nine districts that they are proposing, the savings in jail time, etc should more than offset some of those things. We're looking at putting this plan together within the next thirty days. Its out there for the public to be commenting on. But more than just saying I don't like it, what I'm hoping is that somebody will say ‘here is an alternative' to divide it up in a way that works well for everybody across the state. My goal is to vote for what's best for the entire state and not what might be just best for where I am (my district). I have to look at this as a state issue and not just what's going to be best for our county. My vote has to be that way. I am going to be very open to the facts. For example, I want to know the case load and the average time for trial. I think that will make a difference in how its going to be divided up," said Representative Pody.
Tennessee currently has thirty-one judicial districts which determine the areas judges, district attorneys and public defenders serve.
To be considered, submitted plans must use 2010 federal census data and redistrict the entire state. Plans must contain a total of thirty-one districts or fewer and districts must be comprised of whole counties. Regional integrity, geographic boundaries and ease of inter-county travel must also be considered.