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County approves resolution to hire full-time judge

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

Johnson County operates with part-time judges running the local courts. County Lawyer Perry Stout presented the idea to elect a full-time Sessions Judge to help the county see more cases and decrease hearing waiting times. It could also save the county litigation issues in the future.

The upgraded position will cost an additional $20,000 annually, but Stout assures officials it will save more than five times that cost. His numbers focus on freed up resources for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department and the increased number of court cases processed. Sheriff Eddie Tester estimates this move could free up around 20 to 25 beds, and Stout calculated that ten beds would save the county around $116,000. Unicoi County approved the same position upgrade two years ago with, reportedly, excellent results. Stout reports that surrounding areas are following this trend, making it become the norm.

“I think it could be a really great help to the community,” Stout told the Budget Committee.

According to Stout, it takes 18 to 24 months to be seen in the juvenile court. “Very similar” numbers are involved in a Hamblen County, Tennessee injunction on Wealth-Based Bonding. These cases involve when someone commits a minor crime, like public intoxication, and cannot pay bail to get out, leaving them locked up longer than an actual sentence would have because of bond hearing delays. Hamblen County plaintiffs are close to getting a settlement, according to Stout.

The current General Sessions Judge, William Hawkins, would be the most obvious choice for the position, but Stout reports he was not interested. Because of this, officials plan to wait until after his retirement to implement this, pending state government approval. If this comes to fruition, Johnson County will add a full-time judge on September 1, 2022.

Currently, there are several people interested in the position, including Stout. He brought this up early enough to start the process through the state government and give any interested parties notice. Anyone running for the job must live in the county for at least one year before the election.Find out more about Johnson County, its government, and meeting times at johnsoncountytn.gov.