Cook vs Vann, The Final Analysis

On February 12th, Lenoir City's city court judge, Terry Vann, addressed the city council about a matter he said concerned him. Citing a report he acquired from the clerk's office, he advised the council that over a nearly ten year period, 1997-2007, there were more than three hundred thousand dollars in fines and court costs outstanding and uncollected. Judge Vann's explanation to council for the high, uncollected fines and court costs was due to City Treasurer/Recorder/Court Clerk, Debbie Cook's negligence and called for Ms. Cook's resignation as city court clerk. Vann told the council if Ms. Cook would resign, they [council] "could appoint someone as clerk of that court to work under his (Vann's) direction." Vann also went on to tell the council that he "had discussed this with Dale (Hurst City Administrator) and looked for alternatives to get me (Vann) involved and let me (Vann) take charge of this." The judge also stated that the uncollected money represented 2500 unattended cases. Ms. Cook vigorously denied Judge Vann's accusations. Judge Vann's charges of negligence, mismanagement and failure to perform her duties is a serious charge and if true should demand action from council to address the matter.

A close study of the now infamous 167 page report reveals a number of facts relevant to Judge Vann's charges. The report is laid out as a nine column report. Column headings are Name, Docket #, Ticket Number, Disposition, Fine, Court Cost, Other Costs, Cash Paid, Balance. The key column in the report that would be most important to the Judge's charges would be "Disposition." This column represents the outcome of the case. There are 17 different dispositions.

Time To Pay-30 Day extension to pay fines and costs for traffic violations. 330 cases.
Notice To State-Turned over to the state for suspension or with holding of drivers licenses for failure to pay for traffic violations. 950 cases.
Awaiting Court-Cases that have not yet gone to court. 271 cases.
Mittimus-Stay Or Pay. Unpaid turned over to police officers for arrest for thirty days in jail or pay fines and costs. 346 cases.
Re-arrest-Failure to appear in court subject to arrest on sight. 86 cases.
Time Served-Fines and costs dismissed for jail time served. 4 cases.
Guilty Paid-Self-explanatory. 34 cases.
Retired-Cases removed for various reasons. 5cases.
Pass For Three Months-Case dismissed if no violations for three months. 9cases.
Traffic School-Required to attend driver safety training. 20cases.
Not Guilty-Self-explanatory. 1case.
Hold Till Next-Scheduled for next court date. 75cases.
Nolo Pro-Dropped by judge. 1case.
Friends Of Law Enforcement-Donations made to private organization. 2cases.

This equals 2248 cases. However only 1576 individuals.

The first obvious fact is that every case has been addressed by the clerk's office. In fact according to officers in the clerks office, many of the reported cases should have been eliminated from the report and the outstanding balances zeroed out. The bottom line is, the report cited by Judge Vann is an out dated, seldom used report that has not been kept current for various reasons. All tickets, their balances and their dispositions are entered and kept current in a different program and the outstanding balances kept current by staff. A true discovery of the outstanding fines and fees would require a different approach. However the total amount of outstanding fines and fees if far, far less than what has been reported by the Judge. Every single case has been dutifully handled by the clerk's office and are in various states of disposition.

The Final Analysis

Judge Vann chose to make an unprovoked, unannounced attack in a public forum on Ms. Cook's credibility using flawed, incredible  information. The judge admitted that he had discussed the situation with City Administrator, Dale Hurst but not Ms. Cook. The judge stated that he had talked with MTAS (Municipal Technical Assistance Service) which may be true. However the opinion rendered by CTAS made it clear that Ms. Cook as an elected official has complete control and authority over her office.

None of Judge Vann's charges can be found to be true or credible. The clerk's office has taken all steps legally available to them to make collection of the outstanding debts. Short of kicking down doors and rifling debtors sock drawers, the clerks office has done all they can to collect the outstanding debts.

Our government is devised to have certain checks and balances as in the three branches of government, executive, legislative and judicial each having certain oversight over the other. Anyone operating without oversight whether real or perceived is a potential problem. Judge Vann gave his reason for concern of the outstanding money to be in the interest of the city. If this is true, the judge would have been well served to have checked his facts before he spoke. If a collection agency is what the council wishes to pursue, then let them move the process forward.

The judge's charge of negligence by Ms. Cook are shown to be wholly unfounded and should be considered as professional slander of a public official. The burden of proof is on the accuser. Let the evidence bare the facts.