By Meg Dickens
This previous February, County Lawyer Perry Stout presented the idea of electing a full-time judge to the General Session Court docket pending state approval. Commissioners sent a letter of support, and now Stout reports that government officials have approved their request. As of September 1, 2022, Johnson County will follow in Unicoi County’s footsteps by upgrading the General Sessions Judge from a part-time position to full-time.
This change will cost the county $20,000 more annually in judge pay, but Stout assured the public it would save more than an estimated $116,000 in resources. With the added hours, Johnson County can hold court more often, which speeds up the judicial process, reduces the number of people in prison awaiting sentencing, and could help protect officials from possible legal actions, such as the class action filed in Hamblen County in February 2020 based around Wealth-Based Bonding.
During his original presentation, Stout explained that it takes 18 to 24 months to be seen in Johnson County’s juvenile court and called it “very similar” to the Hamblen case. In Wealth-Based Bonding cases, those accused of committing “minor crimes” are kept behind bars because they cannot pay bail. In these types of situations, defendants are often locked up longer than the crime’s actual sentence because of bond hearing delays. For example, public intoxication has maximum sentencing of 30 days in prison and a fine.
A new judge will replace current General Sessions Judge William Hawkins after he retires in 2022, who Stout reports did not want the updated position. At the last mention, several parties were interested. Anyone running for the job must live in the county for at least one year before the election to qualify. Find out more about the Johnson County government at johnsoncountytn.gov.