A pedestrian was the victim of a hit and run Friday morning on Short Mountain Highway.
Central dispatch received a call at 2:24 a.m. that a man had been struck by a passing motorist, who failed to stop after the incident.
The victim, 27 year old Devin French was apparently not seriously injured. He complained of leg and arm pain and was taken by DeKalb EMS to the hospital.
Trooper Bobby Johnson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who investigated the incident, said that according to French, he had been at his father's home but had left on foot after the two of them got into an argument.
French was walking or standing in the roadway when a vehicle, described by French as a maroon colored SUV, approached him. After hitting French, the vehicle failed to stop and drove off. French, who claims he blacked out after being hit, was found lying in a ditch by a passerby.
Trooper Johnson said mirror glass was found on the highway. It is believed that French may have been sideswiped by a side view mirror on the vehicle as it passed..
According to Trooper Johnson, French had warrants against him from Trousdale County.
A 52 year old Liberty man charged in a fatal traffic accident last summer appeared in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday before Judge Leon Burns, Jr. where he pled guilty to vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and assault.
Johnny Lynn Hickey, facing a possible prison term of eight to twelve years and loss of his drivers license for up to three years, will be sentenced on May 24. He was indicted in December on one count of vehicular homicide, two counts of vehicular assault, and driving under the influence.
"We (state prosecutors) will be arguing for him (Hickey) to receive the most time he could serve," said Gary McKenzie, Deputy District Attorney General in an interview with WJLE Friday.
"He pled guilty blind (without knowing what his sentence will be) which is a good indication of how strong the case was that the Tennessee Highway Patrol put together," said McKenzie. "They did an outstanding job working this investigation. His plea has the same effect as if we would have tried and a jury convicted him," said McKenzie.
Hickey was charged in the death of 30 year old Chris Gammons who passed away Monday, July 9, 2012 at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.
Gammons and Hickey were among four people in the accident which occurred on Saturday morning, June 23, 2012 on Highway 70 near the intersection of Highway 96 (Dale Ridge Road) on Snow Hill.
Gammons and Troy Bruno, both of Smithville were airlifted from near the scene of the crash by Life Force and Air Evac helicopter ambulances. The other person injured in the wreck was 32 year old Cleva Elaine Gammons of Smithville, wife of Chris Gammons. Hickey was not hurt.
Central dispatch received the call at 3:28 a.m that morning.
According to Trooper Darrell Knowles of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Hickey was traveling west on Highway 70 in a 2004 F350 full size flat bed truck when he crossed the turning lane and into the path of an eastbound 2002 Nissan Altima, driven by Cleva Elaine Gammons. Chris Gammons was a front seat passenger and Troy Bruno was a back seat passenger of the Altima. Chris Gammons was ejected and landed on the highway, in front of the Altima. Bruno was trapped in the backseat and had to be extricated by members of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department's Extrication and Rescue Team.
Bruno and Chris Gammons were transported by DeKalb EMS to a helicopter landing zone on Highway 70 at the intersection of Toad Road. One of them was airlifted by a Life Force helicopter and the other was flown out by an Air Evac helicopter. Mrs. Gammons was transported to DeKalb Community Hospital, where she was treated and released.
On the scene were Trooper Knowles of the THP, DeKalb EMS, Sheriff's Department deputies, DeKalb Fire Extrication and Rescue, and members of the Short Mountain Highway, Main Station, Liberty, and Cookeville Highway stations of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department.
The original complaint against Hickey stated that he admitted to consuming four beers. Several field sobriety tasks were given. Hickey did not perform as demonstrated. Hickey was transported to the emergency room of the hospital for a blood alcohol test and then to the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department for booking.
The vehicular homicide indictment against Hickey alleged that he "killed Chris Gammons by the operation of the motor vehicle and that the killing was the proximate result of Hickey's intoxication, constituting the offense of vehicular homicide".
The indictments for vehicular assault alleged that Hickey "recklessly did cause serious bodily injury to Cleva Gammons and Troy Bruno by the operation of a motor vehicle, and the serious bodily injury was the proximate result of Hickey's intoxication, constituting the offense of vehicular assault".
The indictment for DUI stated that Hickey "unlawfully did, while under the influence of an intoxicant and/or drugs, drive or was in physical control of an automobile or other motor driven vehicle upon the public roads and highways... constituting the offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant and/or drug, first offense".
At a press conference Thursday at Old Hickory Dam, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told a gathering of anglers and other community members that he will introduce legislation next week to delay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “unreasonable plan to restrict fishing below Cumberland River dams (including Center Hill Dam) that will destroy remarkably good recreational opportunities and many jobs.”
“Water spills through the Cumberland River dams less than 20 percent of the time on average,” the senator said. “To close off the tailwaters to fishing 100 percent of the time would be like keeping the gate down at the railroad crossing 100 percent of the time: The track isn't dangerous when the train isn’t coming, and the tailwaters aren’t dangerous when the water isn’t spilling through the dam.”
Alexander said his legislation would require the Corps to conduct an environmental impact review before it could restrict public access to the fishing waters below ten dams on the Cumberland River. The senator said this process would likely take more than a year and would include multiple comment periods, as well as give Congress time to determine if the funding required for the safety barriers on the Cumberland River is in the best interest of public safety and the American taxpayer.
The senator, who is the senior Republican on the Senate committee overseeing Corps funding, also said that he “wanted to know exactly where the $2.6 million that the Corps plans to use to erect physical barriers is coming from during these tight budget times.”
Alexander was joined at Thursday's event by Ed Carter, Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and Mike Butler, Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
Carter told the gathering, “These are extremely important waters for economic and recreational reasons, and there are alternative ways to address the safety issues for boating anglers.”
Mike Butler said, “These are public waters, owned by the citizens and held in trust by the state, and they offer some of the best fishing to be found anywhere. The notion of completely banning boats from our world-class tailwater fisheries without any public input is alarming, and the statistics show that fishing below the dams is exceedingly safe.”
Two weeks ago, Alexander and U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) met at the U.S. Capitol with Maj. General Michael Walsh of the Corps to press their concerns about the Corps plan. Earlier Alexander had met with Lt. Col. James DeLapp, Commander of the Nashville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The senator said he has requested a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Army to press his case that “there are more reasonable ways to achieve both the goals of public safety and allowing taxpayers to enjoy these good fishing opportunities.”
Alexander pointed out that the Tennessee Valley Authority achieves its safety goals without using physical barriers to restrict fishing access to tailwaters below its dams, instead using warning signs, strobe lights and horns at 22 of its 31 dams to warn of times when water will spill through the dams.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, issued the following statement responding to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander’s announcement at Old Hickory Lock and Dam.
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, was honored to host U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander at Old Hickory Lock and Dam.During Senator's Alexander's visit, members of the District had the opportunity to show him the hazards (to include spilling and generating releases) within the proposed restricted areas and discuss the District's commitment to providing for the Public Safety while coming in to compliance with ER 1130-2-520. As to the proposed legislation that Senator Alexander announced, the Corps cannot comment on pending or proposed legislation
Shan Burklow has been named Director of Marketing for DeKalb Community Hospital (DCH) and Stones River Hospital (SRH), according to Sue Conley, Chief Executive Officer, effective February 14. Burklow is a native of DeKalb County and has 19 years marketing experience.
"We are so pleased that Shan has joined our team. She brings her extensive knowledge of innovative communications with her and will help to develop a new focus and enthusiasm for our hospitals", Conley stated, "She will assist in increasing our involvement and visibility in our communities and we are very excited to have her."
Burklow started her career in publishing with many printed works to her credit including three best sellers, as well as receiving the SCBWI Speaker of the Year Award. Later, she opened the first fully digital photography studio in Tennessee (Studio Six) along with her sister, Beth Chandler. She is known to the community for her volunteer and charity work including the DeKalb County Fair Board, DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, Relay for Life and Crowns for a Cause as well as being a studio anchor for DTC-TV3. Burklow is a current host at the Tennessee State Fair and DeKalb County Fair.
Burklow credits her acceptance of this position to destiny, "I was born blind and extremely premature at DeKalb (DCH). I would have died if Dr. Hugh Don Cripps had not gone the extra mile to save me. After giving me mouth to mouth through a straw, he made a promise to my mom that he would send me to Vanderbilt if I lived through the night. I did, and he kept his word. After a year of blindness, my eyes were miraculously healed. God had a plan for me and Dr. Cripps is still my doctor over forty years later. I strongly believe that people give 150% when they sincerely care about you....and small community hospitals are staffed by your neighbors and friends who care and are already vested in your health and happiness."
Due to her very public career and unusual story, Burklow has been featured on national television including Good Morning America, The 700 Club, The Today Show, and Entertainment Tonight. She currently resides in Dowelltown with her husband Andy and three children - Emily, Drew, and Charlie. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and laughing with her family.
Local attorneys are speaking out against a proposed judicial redistricting plan that would take DeKalb County out of the current make up of the 13th Judicial District and make it part of a new eight county district, which would also include 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.
In a meeting with the local media Wednesday afternoon, several local attorneys expressed their displeasure with the proposal and plan to lobby state legislators to vote against it if presented to the general assembly.
"We (all local attorneys) are unanimous in our opposition to this, said General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook, II, who is president of the DeKalb County bar.
Judge Cook said judicial redistricting is not needed and a recent study authorized by the state legislature on statewide judicial redistricting drew the same conclusion. "To me, one of the important factors is the tax dollars that this is going to cost. It will cost millions of dollars. The state of Tennessee is not flush with our money and its our money that they're talking about spending. In fact, just four years ago they (state) spent some $250,000 to $300,000 and hired an independent company to make a study of redistricting the state. The summary of that study says ‘we don't need it'. There is nothing substantial or insubstantial that has changed in the last four years. Its ridiculous to say just because nothing (judicial redistricting) has happened since 1984, lets go in and make something happen. If its not broken, it doesn't need to be fixed," said Judge Cook
In 2007, the Tennessee Comptroller's Office awarded a contract to the Justice Management Institute and the Center for Justice, Law, and Society (CJLS) at George Mason University, to conduct a study of potential judicial redistricting in the state of Tennessee. The findings from the study were released in April, 2009. Based on the data collected for the study and an analysis of it, the report said "JMI does not recommend that judicial redistricting occur at this time".
According to the JMI report, "a review of relevant literature and state information found that in the states for which there was information on redistricting, the criteria were not actually used exclusively to assess district boundaries but rather to apportion judicial resources. These criteria included caseload per judge, weighted caseload, and population as the key factors used in other states to determine judicial boundaries. In lieu of criteria established by the state of Tennessee, JMI nonetheless used the criteria noted above to assess the boundaries of the judicial districts. Using these criteria, JMI found slight differences in a handful of districts, but none of significant magnitude to warrant redistricting. Additional information related to case processing times and pending caseloads were also examined and although differences were observed, changes in district boundaries are unlikely to address these differences. Moreover, the observed differences were again not of major significance," according to the JMI report.
"This report talks about the weighted case load that is one of the methods that Tennessee uses to determine where we need to put judicial resources. You cannot use population to say we need or don't need another judge," said Judge Cook, "It's the case load. So you can't go by population. But its my understanding that's kind of what they (state lawmakers) are wanting to do on redrawing the lines. Surely to goodness the legislature can spend our tax dollars better on education and other important issues than spending it on redrawing district lines for the judiciary when it doesn't need it," he said
As for the case load, attorney Hilton Conger said the judges in the 13th Judicial District manage it well. "If you look at the current thirty one judicial districts, the 13th Judicial District that we're in has the most counties. It may not be the largest populated district or the largest geographic district but it has the most counties of any. It has seven counties. No other district has seven counties in it. Our five judges in those counties say they're not overworked or under worked. They are disposing of cases as they should be disposed of. Who better knows (than the judges)? They (state lawmakers) give lip service by saying it (redistricting) is to get speedier trials so you won't have prisoners waiting in jail or litigants waiting. (They say) justice delayed is justice denied. I agree with that but I promise you that in our district, which has more counties than any in the state, you can get a trial on any kind of case, a jury trial or bench trial. If you really pushed for it and both sides cooperated, you could have a jury trial in less than six months. There is not a judge in our district that wouldn't accommodate you or find the time for it. All you have to do is come to our docket settings. The judges routinely ask the question at the beginning of the docket setting, does anybody have a case they want to get tried? They say I've got the time. You tell me," said Conger.
Frank Buck, longtime attorney and former State Representative, said he doesn't like the proposed new map in that it runs from such a long distance from Macon County, bordering Kentucky, down to Coffee County, not far from Alabama. He said that would create an undue burden of travel for many litigants. "The purpose of any judicial system is not for the benefit of the lawyers. Its not for the benefit of the judges. Its for the benefit of the public," said Buck. ‘When you look at this map (proposed new eight county district), if I were a lawyer in Tullahoma and I was getting some lady's child support (for her), I might have to go from within thirty miles of Alabama all the way within twenty miles of the Kentucky border if I were in Judge Wootten's court in Macon County. Judge Wootten is an excellent judge. Its not the judges, it's the geography that's crazy," said Buck.
Sarah Cripps said local attorneys would also face a lot of initial unpredictability with a different District Attorney General and new judges "To me the redistricting would inject so much unpredictability for the lawyers who are trying to render good representation for our clients. We have working relationships that are good with our district attorney, with our DCS attorneys, and with our judges. I'm not saying we can predict outcomes but when a client comes to you or if you're a mediator and you can talk with some sense of assuredness as to what a judge might do in a case or you know how the judge likes motions or certain things filed then that is important. All of this is going to be re-learning for everybody. It will be for me and I assume it will be for others if you're not familiar with a judge. We're not going to have relationships that we've built with the (current) District Attorney's Office, with the Public Defender's Office, with the Department of Children Services and their case managers and attorneys. We're not going to know (new) judge's preferences. To me that doesn't help anyone. Most of all it doesn't help our clients. That's what we're all about is trying to help our clients in the best way we can. This is going to thwart those efforts significantly. We have excellent judges in this district. From General Sessions and Juvenile Court to Circuit, Chancery to Criminal Court we are blessed with uniformly excellent judges. I want the district and the citizens of our county to continue to have that type of system to work for us," said Cripps.
Judge Cook added that many litigants might also be better served by judges already familiar with their case history. "So often you have people that come into court involving matters concerning their children and those cases continue on and on for years. You go in front of a judge, like Judge (Ronald) Thurman or Judge (John) Maddux. They are familiar with the case. They are familiar with what has happened over the years. If we end up getting stuck in another judicial district, then all of a sudden that new judge comes into court and the litigants come in and that judge knows nothing about the case. They've got a whole new learning curve. How is that fair to the litigants? That's who the system is for is them," said Judge Cook.
"What I look at is the overall economic affect on state and county resources," said attorney Jim Judkins. "For a deputy to have to transport a prisoner several counties for a hearing, that's going to cost the state or that county a whole lot more money. I don't really see it as the most efficient way to do business here in the district. I'm opposed to it. I think when you have the D.A., the Public Defender, and just about every judge around here saying we are opposed to it along with the lawyers, I think that speaks volumes about redistricting in this particular county," said Judkins.
"I'm with my fellow attorneys," said attorney Jeremy Trapp. I don't see any benefit this is going to create. I think it's a mistake. I go to a lot of different counties and practice law in front of a lot of different judges and I haven't met one that's for this or who can tell me how this is going to help things or make things better. So I'm opposed to it," said Trapp.
"We in the clerk's office, we're kind of the in between of all these lawyers, the D.A's office, and the Public Defender's office," said Circuit Court Clerk Katherine Pack. "We have a really good working relationship with all of them. Like everybody else, its going to be a learning process just to get this transitioned over to something else, it's just almost beyond what I could think of that we will have to do to accommodate this. I am opposed to it simply because I love working with our D.A.'s office. I love working with the attorneys. I love working with the Public Defender's office. I feel like we all have a good working relationship. I just hate to see that start from the ground and have to be worked up again," said Pack.
"As the newest attorney I haven't practiced in front of these Circuit and Criminal Court judges and Chancellor as much as everyone else here. But when I hear them (other attorneys) that have practiced in front of them for years on end say that everyone is unanimously against it, I can't think of one reason to be for it," said attorney Jon Slager. " Everyone is against it and they have said their reasons. They know much more about it than I do so I can't think of any reason to be for it," said Slager.
The 13th Judicial District is currently made up of Clay, Cumberland, DeKalb, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, and White Counties. The district has three trial courts including the Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Courts and 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 Representative Mark Pody, during a visit to Smithville last Friday, said he believes the current system isn't working and that some changes should be made. "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," he said.
"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 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. 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.
Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey said he wants the State 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.
(Third Photo from Top: Pictured left to right seated Hilton Conger, Mingy Bryant, and Sarah Cripps. Standing left to right- Mark Kent, Bratten Cook, II, Jeremy Parsley, Jim Judkins, Frank Buck, and Jon Slager)
Members of the local bar who have an active trial practice in the Thirteenth Judicial District and who are not pictured in the photograph are:
Tecia Puckett Pryor
Two juveniles, believed to be responsible for a rash of recent mail box vandalism incidents, will soon make an appearance in Juvenile Court on petitions accusing them of committing the delinquent act of vandalism.
Sheriff Patrick Ray said the two juveniles, both boys, were served with the petitions Tuesday.
According to Sheriff Ray, numerous mail boxes have been damaged recently, mostly in the southern portion of the county in the areas of Whorton Springs Road, New Home, Bethel Road, Jacobs Pillar, and Old Blue Springs Road.
Sheriff Ray is asking anyone who has been a victim of mailbox vandalism to call Central Dispatch at 215-3000. An officer will contact you to make a report.
Although he was not involved in the high speed pursuit out of Van Buren County last week as initially reported by authorities there, 21 year old Ray Darnell Underwood still has his own problems with the law.
Sheriff Patrick Ray said Underwood is charged with promotion to manufacture methamphetamine, driving on a suspended license, evading arrest, and unlawful possession of a schedule II drug for resale. He also has against him a capius or bench warrant out of the General Sessions Court for simple possession, casual exchange, and two counts of failure to appear in court. His bond totals $42,000 and he will be in court on February 28.
According to Sheriff Ray, Underwood, a resident of Cookeville Highway Smithville was arrested on Sunday, February 17.
Sheriff Ray said that on Wednesday, January 23 a sheriff's department drug detective took a warrant on Underwood for promotion of the manufacture of methamphetamine after he was found with nine pseudoephedrine pills on his person during a traffic stop. Underwood was a passenger of a vehicle pulled over by the detective on Highway 70. In an interview with authorities, Underwood allegedly admitted that he was planning to make methamphetamine with the pills.
Nine days later on Friday February 1, another drug detective spotted Underwood operating a vehicle on Highway 53. The officer had prior knowledge that Underwood's license were suspended and he tried to stop him. Instead of pulling over, Underwood accelerated and drove into Cannon County. The officer terminated the pursuit. A computer check confirmed that Underwood's license were suspended in DeKalb County in September, 2010.
The following Monday, February 4, the same drug detective who tried to stop Underwood on Friday, February 1 spotted Underwood driving again while on routine patrol. Underwood passed him on Highway 70. The officer turned around at Toad Road and began a pursuit activating his lights and sirens. Underwood turned onto New Home Road at a high rate of speed, refusing to stop. He then turned onto Short Mountain Highway. The drug detective again terminated the pursuit due to the speed.
Underwood was finally arrested on Sunday, February 17. A drug detective saw Underwood, who was as a passenger of a vehicle on Gentry Avenue. Having knowledge that Underwood had outstanding warrants against him, the detective placed him under arrest. A search of his person turned up in his jacket pocket a small plastic bag that contained a powdery substance believed to be meth. It field tested to be meth. It was over a half gram. Underwood allegedly told the detective that he had planned to sell it. He also allegedly admitted to being the driver of the vehicle who evaded the drug detective.
25 year old Jamaal Ahmad League of Smith Road, Smithville is charged with public intoxication. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court February 28. Sheriff Ray said that on Monday, February 18 an officer was dispatched to the intersection of Main Street and Short Mountain Street, to check on a man (League) who was reported to be peeping in car windows. League was found to be carrying a six pack of beer. He had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his person and he was unsteady on his feet. It was League's second arrest for public intoxication within four days. He was first arrested on Thursday, February 14 and brought to the jail for booking.
43 year old Tammy Denise Stanley of Redman Road, Smithville is charged with driving under the influence. Her bond is $1,500 and she will be in court on February 28. Sheriff Ray said that on Thursday, February 14 a deputy saw a vehicle speeding through the school zone at DeKalb West on Highway 70. The officer got behind the automobile and observed it weaving all over the roadway and driving erratically. The deputy stopped the vehicle and made contact with the driver, Stanley. Her speech was slurred. She admitted to having taken hydrocodone pills earlier in the day. Stanley submitted to but performed poorly on field sobriety tasks. She also submitted to a blood alcohol drug test.
39 year old Sebastian Manuel Torres of West Bryant Street, Smithville is charged with driving under the influence. He was also issued a citation for failure to travel in the proper lane, violation of the implied consent law, and no drivers license. His bond is $1,500 and he will be in court on February 28. Sheriff Ray said that on Saturday, February 16, a deputy saw a vehicle traveling in the middle of both lanes on West Broad Street in Smithville at a very slow speed. The officer stopped the vehicle and spoke to the driver, Torres who had a very strong odor of alcohol on his person. Torres, whose speech was slurred, also admitted to consuming beer. He submitted to but performed poorly on field sobriety tasks but he refused to submit to a blood alcohol test.
22 year old Justin Lee Todd of Liberty is charged with public intoxication. His bond is $1,000 and he will be in court February 21. Sheriff Ray said that on Sunday, February 17 a deputy and Tennessee Highway Patrol officer responded to a residence on Adamson Branch Road where a man was in the front yard acting very strangely and armed with a ball bat and a fire poker. The officers made contact with Todd, who was acting very paranoid. Todd told the officer that five men were after him, wanting to kill him. Todd's speech was very slurred and slow. He appeared to be under the influence and his behavior and actions caused alarm. Todd was placed under arrest.
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.
City officials fired back at the DeKalb Utility District Monday night after receiving a letter from DUD officials claiming that City Attorney Vester Parsley, Jr. and Secretary-Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson have not provided the aldermen with "full and accurate information" concerning the DUD's position on the water cost study
"I take a little offense at that," said Parsley during Monday night's city council meeting.
City officials, during the last meeting on February 4 complained that DUD had decided not to pay for half the cost of a water study, as the utility had allegedly previously agreed to do in correspondence with the city.
The DUD letter, signed by Board Chairman Roger Turney and manager Jon Foutch, sent over the weekend to city officials including each alderman points out that the DUD was willing, in a proposed water purchase contract, to share in the expense of a Cost of Service Study with the city as long as both parties agreed on an unbiased and independent entity to perform the study, which is being done to determine the actual cost to the city of producing water. Results of the study are expected to help determine rates the city charges the DUD in any future water purchase contract agreement. Even if DUD builds its own water treatment plant, the utility will apparently still need a new contract with the city to serve some areas.
The city chose Warren & Associates to do the study at a cost of $7,500. DUD officials claim Warren & Associates is not unbiased since officials of that company are expected to be called as expert witnesses in the Utility Management Review Board (DUD rate review) proceeding on April 4 in Smithville and will be presenting evidence against the DUD on behalf of the City of Smithville.
Parsley insists both he and Hunter Hendrixson have kept the mayor and aldermen informed on all issues regarding the DUD and takes offense with the DUD for suggesting otherwise. "Hunter and I received a letter from the Chairman of the DUD and Mr. Jon Foutch which implied that Hunter and I had not been informing the board correctly about issues involving DUD. I certainly take a little offense at that because I know that the mayor and I have talked many times and we've brought it to your attention here as a board many times about issues as they are brought up. It wasn't at every board meeting because we didn't have something to bring up. But Hunter and the mayor and I have talked several times about various issues. Those (issues) that we felt like were important to bring to the board, I know we brought to the board's attention. I just wanted to clarify that. If anyone at the board here ever needs to talk to me about any issue with DUD you know my line is always open. My office is always open and I would be willing to talk to you at any time. I'm sure Hunter would say the same. You folks (mayor and aldermen), I'm working for you and whatever you want me to do I'll do and anytime you've asked me to write a letter, I've written a letter. I just wanted to clarify that," said Parsley.
"I was really disturbed at the way they (DUD) talked about you and Hunter," said Alderman Danny Washer. "Right off the bat, I didn't like it and you (Parsley and Hendrixson) have been up front with us. You have discussed everything with us. If I've had any questions you have always been open with us. We've been after this for a long time. It just seems like it just gets passed around. They (DUD) don't want to cooperate with us. We've been up front but they're not wanting to work with us on this. Its kind of like a smoke screen to me. They just keep putting it off and putting it off. I appreciate all the information you have given us. You have kept up informed with everything. I really respect the information you give us. I trust it. I don't like what I'm getting in the mail from them (DUD). I took offense to it and it wasn't even directed at me. But we're all part of the board and what reflects on yall (Parsley and Hendrixson) reflects on us" said Washer.
Meanwhile, Hendrixson said Warren & Associates is proceeding with the water cost study and should be finished soon. "I talked Friday with Warren & Associates. I think they are going to be up here one day this week to collect a little more data. I think they're getting pretty close to having a pretty accurate number. They won't give me any numbers yet which is fine until they are completely done. I'm hoping by the next meeting we'll have a cost of water survey completed and we'll know where we stand not only with DUD in negotiating a contract with them but also so we know where we are as a city and if we are charging our city customers too much. We'll know how to plan better if we need a rate increase or leave as is so hopefully in the next several weeks we'll have a number to go by which is long overdue," said Hendrixson.