Candidates for General Sessions Judge squared off Monday night in a political forum at WCHS held just days before early voting begins this Friday.
Bill Locke, who is currently serving as General Sessions Judge after being appointed by the Warren County Commission in January, discussed his credentials along with challengers Susan Marttala, Mary Little Pirtle, and Jean Brock.
It was Brock who began the lively discourse by saying there are several problems she plans to address if elected.
“I’ve been in court enough to know there are some obvious things that need to be changed in this courtroom,” said Brock. “I don’t have to wait until I get in there to tell you what I’m thinking about.”
Among her ideas, Brock said court needs to be held at the jail for those already incarcerated there. She says this will save transportation costs and will free up time for deputies.
“I’ve met with Sheriff Jackie Matheny and there’s a large room available for this,” said Brock. “He has stated plainly this will save money in his budget.”
Pirtle says her No. 1 priority will be Juvenile Court as she has seen firsthand the impact of incarceration as president of Wings Ministry. Wings is a support organization for family members of those incarcerated.
“Seventy percent of children with an incarcerated parent will also end up in jail or prison and Warren County has the highest commitment rate of juveniles of all the counties in the Upper Cumberland region,” said Pirtle. “I will establish programs that will keep these children busy after school. Community service and being checked on once a month is not working. Our juvenile docket has grown longer and longer in the 12 years I have been practicing law here.”
Locke said he believes the judicial system in Warren County is running as well as any judicial system in the state. He says he has experience in private practice, as a prosecutor, and now as judge.
“I think you need to know how to try a case before you can judge a case and my experience as a prosecutor gives me that,” said Locke. “A judge has to make tough decisions, which is sometimes not easy to do when you’re in a small community and know a lot of people. I’ve never made a decision as a judge or a prosecutor that I didn’t think was justified by the law or evidence.”
Marttala talked of her experience as the first female attorney to have an office in Warren County. She was also the first female district attorney in Tennessee when she was appointed in 1990 by the governor to fill the term of Buck Ramsey. She did all this while raising a family.
“While my husband David and I were building a successful law practice, we were also building a successful family,” said Marttala, who says she will be an effective judge in Juvenile Court. “I’ve learned firsthand that young people respond when adults set high expectations and goals for kids and then care enough to see that the expectations and goals are reached.”
Marttala says she’s proud of the fact she was able to balance her law career with motherhood. That includes her appointment to the district attorney’s office.
“I always love a challenge and I took full advantage of that one,” she said of serving as district attorney.
When asked to identify any flaws with our judicial system, Marttala didn’t mention any.
“We are very fortunate in Warren County to have a strong judicial system,” she said.
Locke says we benefit locally from having a small judicial district composed only of Warren and Van Buren counties.
“We have the ability to get cases through very quickly and that’s not the case everywhere,” said Locke. “In some places it takes 12 to 14 months to get a case disposed of.”
In addition to changing some policies pertaining to juvenile justice, Pirtle said our legal system also must emphasize rehabilitation.
“We can’t rely on punishment and punishment alone. There has to be rehabilitation,” said Pirtle. “If you look at our jail, it stays completely full with repeat offenders.”
Among her proposals, Brock said it’s not smart to throw someone in jail for not paying their court costs. In addition to costing a minimum of $35 a day to house that inmate, she says those 10 days in jail could cost them their job.
“If they have a job, I want them to keep that job,” said Brock. “Electronic ankle monitoring is at least 75 percent cheaper than putting them in jail and we need to look at that as an alternative. We’ve had instances where people have been in jail and had to go on dialysis and we’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on them just to collect their court fees.”