WILLIAMSON COUNTY: Judicial commissioner appointment unique as judges each nominate a candidate, others apply for one job
By Donna O'Neil, Staff Writer
They say two heads are better than one, but it will take 24 county commissioners to decide which of four candidates will be selected for a judicial commissioner’s job after the county’s two General Sessions judges each nominated a candidate and two others applied for the post.
“This is the first time that two judges have pitched two different people [for appointment of a single Williamson County judicial commissioner],” said County Mayor Rogers Anderson at the County Budget Committee meeting this week.
Although no action was taken at the meeting, there was plenty of discussion on Resolutions 1-11-17 and 1-11-18 which presented the names of two of four candidates to fill an unexpired four-year term vacated by Jonathan Casey Ashworth, who was appointed to the position in 2009.
The role of the judicial commissioner is to “issue warrants, mittimus [the paperwork that commits a person to jail with information about their charges, court date and amount of bail to post], juvenile petition and other legal document.”
County Attorney Robert “Bobby” Cook echoed the Mayor’s comments. In and interview after the meeting, he said, “All four names will be presented to the county commissioners. According to state laws, the County Commission will take into account the thoughts and comments of the General Sessions judges when making their decision.”
According to an agenda for the Monday, Jan. 10, the names submitted are Johnny Beard, Sandra Heithcock, Iris O’Brien and Vickie Rose. Heithcock was submitted by Judge Alfred Nations and Rose was submitted by Judge Denise Andre.
Additional candidates may be nominated from the floor. According to Cook, “any Tennessee resident may nominate a Williamson County resident to for consideration for the position.”
If there are nominations from the floor, they would be added to the vote at the meeting. Cook said the commissioners’ vote will be conducted as a regular voice vote for the position. However, the successful candidate must receive at least 13 votes. Since this is a first occurrence when the two judges have not agreed, Cook said he is in the process of writing a ruling in the event multiple votes need to be conducted in order to reach a consensus.
In November, Nations also submitted a request to the Law Enforcement Committee to request a third General Sessions juvenile division be created through a resolution proposed to the Tennessee General Assembly. This is the second time that Nations has made the request, withdrawing it in 2007 to gather caseload information to support a future request.
In his current request dated Nov. 16, 2010, he writes, “I believe now, more than ever, the need exists for a third General Sessions/Juvenile judge. Not only do the numbers continue to increase each year, but the nature of the criminal, juvenile and civil cases head become more serious. In the past four years there have been 15 murders in Williamson County. Burglaries, robberies, serious domestic assaults are all occurring with greater frequency. In part because of the economy, our civil dockets are filled with cases involving significant credit card debts, detainer actions and suits for non-payment of accounts. Our juvenile numbers have remained relatively stable but the cases of dependency and neglect and termination of parental rights cases are increasing.”
He continues, “The General Sessions judges, the juvenile magistrates and the probation department are doing all we can to manage the growth we are experiencing. The fact remains that in comparison with surrounding counties, Williamson County is doing more with less and at some point the quality and efficiency of services becomes compromised.”
He noted that Rutherford County has added two judges in the past five years, bringing their totals to three General Sessions and one Juvenile Court judge and at least one juvenile magistrate. Wilson and Sumner counties have added one judge each since 2005 as well, according to Nations.
According to his request he hopes that a resolution is forthwith and will permit the Commission will be able to appoint a new judge by Sept. 1.
Posted on: 1/6/2011