Local News Articles

2012 Property Taxes Due Thursday

February 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Trustee Sean Driver Says 2012 Property Taxes Due Thursday

The Trustee's Office would like to remind you that February 28 is the last day to pay the 2012 property taxes before penalties start accruing March 1.

The Trustee's Office is open from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday- Friday. "Remember, if the last day comes and you can't make it to the post office to postmark your payment, we do have a drop box on the outside wall of our new location at the new county complex," said Trustee Sean Driver.

The Trustee's Office also offers the State of Tennessee Tax Relief. "If you would like to check on a possible tax relief for 2012, come and see us at 732 South Congress Boulevard, Room 103 or call us at 597-5176," said Driver. " The last day to sign up for tax relief is April 5. Also any 2011 unpaid property taxes will be turned over to the Chancery Court on April 1," he added.

Driver said you have four options for paying 2012 property taxes. "You can come by in person at the Trustee's Office or you may mail in your payment. We also offer online bill pay at www.tennesseetrustee.com. You go to that website and select DeKalb County and then follow the instructions. Business Information Systems has set this up for approximately 65 Trustees across the state and there is a fee to use your debit or credit card. If you do pay online the fee to use your debit or credit card is 2.75%. Or you can use an e-check for 1.5%. Online accepts Mastercard, Visa, Discover, and American Express," said Driver.

"We are also accepting partial payments. That is new for 2012 and it's only for 2012 taxes. Partial payment can be for any amount that you want to pay of the total tax bill. Remember if you take advantage of the partial payment plan for 2012, only that portion left unpaid after the deadline will accrue the 1.5% penalty and interest per month," said Driver.

Man Allegedly Rams Truck Into Other Vehicles, Damages Home

February 25, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Eddie D. Farris
1991 Chevy S10 pickup pushed into house on Wade Street
Farris' Dodge Ram Hits 1995 Suzuki
2011 Chrysler (Background) and Sidewalk (foreground) damaged

32 year old Eddie D. Farris was arrested by Smithville Police on Sunday after he allegedly rammed his truck into several parked vehicles, pushing one of them up against a house on Wade Street.

Farris, of Hurricane Ridge Road, is charged with five counts of felony vandalism and reckless endangerment. Chief Randy Caplinger reports that on Sunday, February 24 officers were dispatched to Wade Street where numerous witnesses stated that Farris had rammed several parked vehicles with his truck. He also pushed one of the vehicles through a yard, striking a house. Victims stated that they were in the door way when the vehicle was pushed into the front of the house. Damage was also done to the sidewalk in front of the residence.

The warrants against Farris allege that:

Felony Vandalism over $10,000: Farris intentionally drove (his truck) into a 2011 Chrysler several times causing over $10,000 in damage.

Felony Vandalism over $1,000: Farris did intentionally hit a 1991 Chevy S10 pickup and pushed it into the house at 406 Wade Street. He hit the vehicle (with his truck) several times causing over $1,000 in damage.

Felony Vandalism over $1,000: Farris did intentionally hit a 1995 Suzuki several times (with his truck) causing over $1,000 in damage.

Felony Vandalism over $1,000: Farris intentionally pushed a vehicle into a house (with his truck) doing over $1,000 in damage to the house at 406 Wade Street.

Felony Vandalism over $500: Farris did intentionally damage a side walk belonging to the City of Smithville by pushing vehicles into the side walk (with his truck) causing over $500 in damage.

Reckless Endangerment: Farris put the lives of several people inside the house at 406 Wade Street in danger when he intentionally pushed a vehicle into the house with his vehicle.

Bond for Farris is $40,000 and he will be in court on March 14.

Nicholas A Hollingsworth was arrested for driving on a revoked license, simple possession of a Schedule VI drug and promotion of manufacture of methamphetamine. Warrants state that on Sunday, February 17 Hollingsworth was stopped for a revoked license and after confiscating some marijuana from his person, the officer received consent to search his vehicle. Items were found in the vehicle for use in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Bond for Hollingsworth is $28,000 and his court date is March 14.

30 year old Candice Brook Vickers was cited for possession of drug paraphernalia. Ms Vickers was a passenger in a vehicle that was stopped for a traffic violation. Vickers was found to be in possession of several used hypodermic needles. Her court date is March 14.

Anyone having any information on any criminal activities please contact the Smithville Police Department at 597-8210 or the Tip Line at 464-6046.

Any information received that will help the Smithville Police solve any criminal offense will be greatly appreciated. All information is confidential.

Bid Opening for New Sligo Bridge Set for April 5

February 24, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Sligo Bridge

The Tennessee Department of Transportation plans to open bids on a construction contract for the new Sligo bridge project April 5.

TDOT officials held a pre-bid meeting Friday at the DeKalb County Complex for contractors. Ken Flynn, Director of Operations for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Region 2, told WJLE that the purpose of the meeting was to give contractors as much information possible about the project so they can prepare for the bidding. "It was a pre informational meeting for our contractors to kind of fill them in on the progress of the Sligo bridge in letting that to contract. What this meeting did Friday was kind of bring all of our contractors up to speed on the peculiarities and specialty type items of the bridge to get them prepared to go in and put us together a good bid. Right now, barring any unforseen circumstances we have it for April 5 going to contract," said Flynn.

Since a TDOT right of way deal could not be worked out with the Corps of Engineers because of Sligo Marina, which has just renewed its lease with the Corps, construction crews will largely have to access the site and work within the state right of way around the bridge. Barges will be brought in to do most of the work from the water. A construction staging area will be set up at the Highland Trail (Dubland) Boat Ramp near Riverwatch where contractors may gain access to the lake in getting to the bridge. "A lot of our access, because we want to keep on the right of way, will probably be from water access. We have an access point to the lake (Highland Trail Boat Ramp) and we will be using that to access the bridge site and do most of our work," said Flynn

During the pre-bid meeting Friday, Jennifer Lloyd, TDOT Roadway Design Manager told contractors that the Highland Trail (Dubland) Boat Ramp is located 4.3 miles northeast of the bridge site. This area is an option for the contractor should he be unable to perform the necessary construction functions at the marina site within the proposed limited right of way. Representatives of the Riverwatch Golf Course and Mountain Harbour community and neighborhood groups are aware and supportive of the project. The road to Highland Trail Boat Ramp will be improved prior to construction and after completion of the Sligo bridge project. Access to the Highland Trail Boat Ramp will be closed during construction.

Contractors plan to access the construction site primarily by way of Highland Boat Ramp unless they (contractors) can reach some arrangement with the Sligo marina operators directly at the site or come up with other alternatives. "We've got some room (state right of way) on either side of the roadway (Highway 70) up top (above the construction site) so we'll probably occupy every available space that we have," said Flynn. "We do have access to the lake and river. That is the best access we have to come in on that area (Highland Trail Boat Ramp). But the contractors are pretty ingenious. They may come up with other avenues of access but right now the ones that we're considering are the ones we have provided," said Flynn.

The existing bridge will remain open during construction of the new bridge, which will be built some sixty feet to the north or to the left (traveling toward Sparta) of the old bridge. Flynn said that Sligo Road from Highway 70 to Sligo Marina will also remain open. "We'll still allow access to the existing bridge and to the marina underneath we'll have to maintain that access. Plus there are some water intakes for the local utilities so we have to maintain all of that for them," said Flynn

Pyrite in the rock formations on each side of the river will have to be removed and hauled away during bridge construction. According to County Mayor Mike Foster, pyrite, which is made up of an iron sulfide, will have to be taken to other locations and buried. "They will dig a pit, line it with clay, put down the pyrite, and cover it over with clay so it doesn't leak out into a stream," said Foster.

Two encapsulation sites have been secured to dispose of the pyrite. One of the sites is at the former county landfill location on the Clyde Moore Road, three miles west of the bridge (2,468 cubic yards of pyretic material to be taken there), and on Billings Road, two and a half miles east of the bridge near the existing landfill (70,755 cubic yards of pyretic materials to be dumped there).

Bridge construction should begin within four to six weeks of awarding the bid, according to Flynn. "That's usually a four to six week process. They will open the bids on April 5 and review them to make sure that they are accurate and that they follow all of our guidelines and requirements. Once its determined that there is qualified low bidder, then we will award the contract," said Flynn.

The project is expected to be completed by June 30, 2016.

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Trio Gets Eight Year Sentence in Alexandria Robbery

February 24, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Michael Ray Slaughter
Dustin Shane Puckett
 Joseph Clark Hindelang

Three people charged in an Alexandria robbery last summer each received an eight year sentence in DeKalb County Criminal Court Friday after entering pleas in negotiated settlements.

24 year old Michael Ray Slaughter of Clarksville, 25 year old Dustin Shane Puckett of Watertown, and 27 year old Joseph Clark Hindelang of Lebanon each pleaded guilty to robbery and received an eight year sentence with parole eligibility after serving 30%. Each, originally charged with aggravated robbery, agreed to plea outside of the range of punishment to get the charge reduced to robbery.

Hindelang and Puckett, in addition to robbery, also pled to theft of property over $1,000 and each received a two year sentence to run concurrently with their eight year terms. Both Hindelang and Puckett were given jail credit of 206 days.

Slaughter's eight year term is to run concurrent with any violations or other charges in effect against him. He was fined $2,000.

Alexandria Police Chief Mark Collins told WJLE that Slaughter, Puckett, and Hindelang were arrested in an armed robbery at a home on Measles Lane on August 1, 2012.

Police learned that two of the suspects entered the home, displayed handguns and forced the occupants, an adult female and two children , to sit and remain quiet while they went through the home taking several things including electronics, jewelry, personal items, and narcotics. After leaving the home, the suspects fled into the woods nearby but they were seen by witnesses, who reported it to Sergeant Chris Russell. After spotting a man running out of the woods, Sergeant Russell gave chase. After a short foot pursuit, the man, Slaughter was placed in custody. Shortly thereafter witnesses saw the suspects' vehicle on High Street and reported it. Police responded, found the driver, Hindelang, and placed him in custody. Witnesses also reported having seen the third suspect, Puckett , running out of the woods on Brush Creek Highway. As a result, police found Puckett and arrested him. During a search of the area, officers recovered items taken from the home along with approximately 42 grams of marijuana found in the suspects' vehicle and other items believed to have been stolen from another location. Police seized the vehicle as a result of the investigation.

Meanwhile, 41 year old Angela Dawn Engelhardt, the owner of the Measles Lane home, was charged with simple possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia while another woman living at the residence, 30 year old Angela Bartels , was arrested on outstanding warrants from Wilson County. Engelhardt was not at home at the time of the incident but was arrested later that night. Her case apparently remains pending in court.

The investigation was conducted by Chief Collins and Sgt. Russell

Chief Collins said he would like to commend the actions of the observant citizens for their assistance in the apprehension of the suspects as well as assistance from the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department.

Pedestrian Victim of Early Morning Hit and Run

February 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Devin French (older photo)

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.

Liberty Man Pleads Guilty to Vehicular Homicide

February 22, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Johnny Lynn Hickey
Johnny Lynn Hickey drove the 2004 F350 full size flat bed truck
Chris and Cleva Gammons and Troy Bruno rode in the Altima.

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".

Alexander Introduces Legislation to Delay Fishing Restrictions Below Dams

February 22, 2013
Lamar Alexander

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

Hospitals Appoints Burklow Marketing Director

February 21, 2013
Shan Burklow

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 Speak Out Against Proposed Judicial Redistricting

February 21, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Judge Bratten Cook, II
Frank Buck and Hilton Conger
Several local attorneys
13th District Criminal Court Judge Leon Burns, Jr.
13th District Criminal Court Judge David Patterson
13th District Circuit Court Judge John Maddux
13th District Circuit Court Judge Amy Hollars
13th District Chancellor Ronald Thurman
District Attorney General Randy York of 13th District

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:
Sue Puckett-Jernigan
Vester Parsley
Lena Buck
Tecia Puckett Pryor
Gayla Hendrix

Two Juveniles Believed Responsible for Mailbox Vandalism

February 20, 2013
by: 
Dwayne Page
Patrick Ray

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.

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