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Local officials oppose idea

A proposal in the Tennessee Senate to redistrict the state’s 31 judicial districts is drawing fierce opposition from local District Attorney Lisa Zavogiannis and Judge Bart Stanley.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has announced he wants the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine judicial districting and ways the legal system can operate more efficiently and effectively. He notes the last judicial redistricting occurred nearly 30 years ago in 1984.
“I think this will give us an opportunity to figure out how to take that same money, reallocate it and make it work much more efficiently,” said Ramsey.
Warren County is currently in the 31st Judicial District, which includes all of Warren and Van Buren counties. Zavogiannis said it is one of the smaller districts in the state, but stressed her staff is also small with only four assistant district attorneys.
“For the people of this community, I hope it doesn’t happen,” said Zavogiannis. “It’s only going to result in fewer services for the people who live here. It’s going to have a huge impact, and not just for judges, district attorneys, and public defenders. It’s going to affect the Children’s Advocacy Center, the Drug Court, all the programs we have in place.”
Judge Stanley is the judge who serves the 31st Judicial District. Judges in General Sessions Court, such as Bill Locke, are employed by the county in which they serve.
“People don’t understand what this could mean,” said Stanley. “One proposed map I saw for this district in October was truly bizarre. It ran from Tullahoma to the county line in Kentucky. I don’t know how you’re going to operate more efficiently when you have a district attorney who has to drive four hours to investigate a murder in their district.”
Stanley said an in-depth study was conducted three years ago where there was widespread satisfaction with the current judicial districts. He said all judges are handling roughly the same number of cases per year in the existing format.
“I haven’t seen anything where people don’t have access to a judge when they need one so I don’t know where this is coming from,” said Stanley. “What I want to know is why is this really important to the citizens and how is this going to help them?”
Stanley said instead of creating greater efficiency, a new system would be more inefficient if he has to travel to Coffee, Cannon, DeKalb, Grundy and Van Buren counties. Stanley also said he would have to discontinue the Drug Court program he started here which now serves about 60 people. Drug Court provides extra monitoring and intensive support for people who are allowed to enter instead of going to jail.
“There are meetings three times a week, which makes it tough for people in Spencer to participate,” said Stanley. “There’s no way I could continue it in a six- or seven-county district.”
In pushing for redistricting, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Tennessee had only five counties with 100,000 people or more after the 1980 census. Now the state has 12.
“We need to take a look at this map with modern eyes in order to ensure resources are allocated in the most efficient way possible,” said Norris.
Ramsey said he’s talked with judges across the state about redistricting and one of the main concerns is the possibility of incumbent judges running against each other. He noted some lawmakers faced the same circumstances when legislative redistricting occurred last year.
“That’s the way it works. Look at legislative redistricting,” he said.
Ramsey said he is seeking input from the public and is allowing plans to be submitted over the next month. To be considered, Ramsey said submitted plans must use 2010 federal census data and redraw districts for the entire state. They must contain a total of 31 districts or fewer and districts must be made up of whole counties.
Any interested in submitting plans can do so by email to: lt.gov.office@capitol.tn.gov. For questions, call (615) 741-4524.
“I’m very open to taking any plan from anybody and molding it into the one we pass,” said Ramsey. “This is something that has no political upside. It is all about good government.”


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