Adding a judge impacts caseload
Having two Loudon County General Sessions Court judges for the first time in more than 50 years has so far helped mitigate Loudon County’s growing caseload.
Former Judicial Magistrate Hank Sledge joined Judge Rex Dale on the bench at the beginning of September, and both believe improvements will be more noticeable as time passes.
Sledge was appointed the second judge by Loudon County Commission in August by a 8-0 vote, with commissioners Earlana Maples and Van Shaver abstaining.
Dale said a noticeable improvement he has already seen has been that each judge has set aside an extra day for trials, which has helped “a ton.”
“But as far as my actual calendar schedule, that was set ... six months ago,” Dale said. “That’s how long I’ve had some cases pending, and so until we get past probably a four- to six-month period, we probably won’t see a tremendous advantage (until) that point.”
Dale said the cases currently on his schedule will remain because of an agreement among the parties involved. However, time spent after normal business hours has gone down, he said.
“It’s easier but there are still some weeks because of the scheduling the way that it was set up prior to four to six months ago that it still requires me to spend the additional time right now, but there has been a decrease,” Dale said. “So instead of working every weekend, I think it’s about every second or third weekend now that I’m having to come in and prepare for the next week’s cases.”
Sledge said both judges are responsible for five jurisdictions, dealing with cases in civil, criminal, juvenile, domestic and probate, but since he was already handling juvenile cases as the juvenile magistrate this past year, he will continue juvenile cases while Dale will oversee probate cases.
Either judge could handle both types of cases if a conflict arises, he said.
“We began talking about it before I was appointed just in case I was appointed, but then after I was appointed and before the swearing, we talked about it over the next couple of weeks how we were going to divvy things up,” Sledge said.
Sledge assumed his new role Sept. 1, and so far he said the transition has gone smoothly because of his time already spent in Loudon County and because of past experience.
“Probably the biggest learning curve for me coming into it will be I was doing the domestic — I’ve already been dealing with custody issues through juvenile court, but when you do domestic and divorce you’ve got to deal with property division between divorced couples, and that’ll be a little bit of a learning curve for me,” Sledge said.
The additional judge will be paid through a litigation tax. In August, commissioners voted to increase the tax from $17 to $68 to help finance the new position.
“One of the greatest things that he was handling juvenile cases to begin with before as a juvenile magistrate, and so that gave him a tremendous head start in knowing the attorneys and dealing with (Tennessee Department of Children’s Services) and dealing with the private cases,” Dale said.
“And instead of having — when you’re a new judge, even though as an attorney you know the law you still have to research both sides of the law as a judge,” he added. “And so once you get several hundred cases under your belt doing that, then you don’t have to look up every single statute all the time because by experience and repetition on some of the statutes you know those things, and so you’re able to decide and keep the parties on track on the issues and not let them get off track as well too.”
Sledge said additional security enhancements will hopefully be made in the second courtroom by the end of the year. The courtroom security board, comprised of about five members, will likely meet in a couple of weeks to discuss security camera placement and rearranging the courtroom layout, he said.
Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis said three cameras have been purchased, one of which covers 360 degrees, and hopes are to have them installed by the end of the year.
Davis said the sheriff’s office could approach the courtroom security board about hiring another officer to be a bailiff for the second courtroom. The officer would be funded through a percentage of costs and fines and would not burden the taxpayer, he said. “That fund right now pays for the three door security officers at the big courthouse and here, we have three of those, so we’re looking at add another courtroom bailiff out of that band,” Davis said. “... Right now we have a floater that handles our front door, and they kind of float back and forth, so whenever I have to give my guys a break or a relief for lunch, they’ll go and one will kind of be a relief guy that goes and switches up, or if someone calls in sick.”
If the security board does not approve funding, Davis said the LCSO will “just kind of wing it” for the remainder of this budget year and request one out of the 2016-17 fiscal year budget.
“In addition (to) that, we’re going to have to set up the courtroom differently for better security because ... the judge needs a bench that is in a different place than it is now,” Davis said. “It needs a permanent bench, so he has easier access to it or exit out of the courtroom in case something happens.”