The Putnam County sheriff's office has been busy this week rounding up people who have either failed to show up in court or failed to follow court orders regarding payment of fines and costs. No less than nine people were arrested in one day on what authorities call a capias. That's an arrest warrant issued by a judge when someone doesn't meet their court obligations. In two of the cases, the suspects turned themselves in to the jail after learning they were wanted. In another case, the capias was served on a man already in jail on other charges. According to the Circuit Court Clerk's office, a number of defendants set up payment plans to take care of the fines against them, but then fall behind and fail to finish paying. In criminal cases, that ultimately leads to jail time.
Tennessee Supreme Court justices could be challenged in re-election campaigns under a Republican-sponsored proposal advanced by a Senate panel on Wednesday. But Democratic Representative Henry Fincher of Cookeville has been an outspoken critic of changing the current system that he argues ensures an independent and merit-based judiciary.
"Putting them up for contested races, where big money can buy TV ads produced by slick professionals run statewide is just putting our judiciary up for sale," said Fincher. "It’s a bad idea."
The proposal sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Collierville Republican, would give the governor the power to independently fill all vacancies on the high court, and justices could face challengers at the end of their terms. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville broke a 4-4 tie along party lines in the Senate Government Operations Committee to advance the measure. Currently governors must choose from three-candidate panels presented by the Judicial Selection Commission, and justices stand for yes-no retention votes at the end of their terms. The system known as the Tennessee Plan is set to expire on June 30.
A Nashvillle man who said he was tired of being sick and wanted to "dry out" showed up at the Putnam County jail this week, apparently seeking refuge. Authorities told the man that they could not incarcerate him unless he was charged with a crime. But then they noticed that the man -- identified as 48-year-old Thomas Edward Tefteller of 718 S. 12th Street in Nashville, smelled strongly of alcohol. And since he was apparently intoxicated as he stood in the lobby of the Justice Center, they arrested him for public intoxication and walked him to the jail. No word on whether he will be able to dry out there or not, since that charge usually carries a fine, but no jail time once the suspect sobers up.
More brush fires have been reported today by Putnam County authorities. Sheriff's deputy Matthew Hickey says he and Deputy Stephanie Cantwell responded to an area of the Nashville HIghway near the Smith County line just after midnight on Tuesday to a reported fire. They arrived to find two brush fires burning near Petty's Ridge Road. The county fire department was called out they had the Division of Forestry also respond. The sheriff's department provided traffic control in the area until the firefighting equipment was out of hte roadway. No word on what may have caused the fires, but forestry officials say many of them are the result of careless outdoor burning in exceptionally dry conditions. They remind you that you need a permit from them before you start any outdoor burn.
Any of the local lawyers who may be interested in filling the judgeship being vacated by John Turnbull have until next Tuesday to apply for the job. Turnbull announced his retirement earlier this year, saying back problems prevent him from staying seated for long periods of time -- something that is an occupational requirement of sorts for judges. According to the Tennessee Bar Association, two attorneys have expressed an interest in Turnbull's position thus far. They are former criminal court judge Lillie Ann Sells and the woman currently filling the role on a temporary basis, Livingston attorney Amy V. Hollars, who is Turnbull's daughter. the governor will appoint a replacement to serve until the next regular election, which is in 2010. The office will go on the ballot at that time to elect someone to fill out the rest of the Turnbull's term. But the website for the Administrative Office of the Courts says that the state's Judicial Selection Commission will meet on Friday, May 22, in Cookeville, to initiate the process of filling the vacancy. They are the group that will make a recommendation to the governor. Any member of the public, both lay and attorney, is entitled to attend the public hearing to express, orally or in writing, suggestions of possible nominees and/or their approval of or objections to any suggested nominee for the judicial vacancy.