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Van Buren may get own judge

The Van Buren County Commission discussed compensation for its General Sessions Judge during its meeting on Tuesday. 

Commissioners discussed the possibility of funding this new position if the Tennessee General Assembly elects to separate the consolidated judicial district of Van Buren County and White County. A bill has been proposed to allow the split between the two counties.

“We are in the only district in the state of Tennessee that doesn’t have our own General Sessions Judge,” said county attorney Howard Upchurch. “Legislation is being considered at our request by the General Assembly at this time.”

The current compensation is based on the distribution of a combined salary since the two counties are combined and share a judge. General Sessions judges are classified by population, so if the two counties separate, they will be in different classifications with Van Buren County being in the lowest classification as a Class 7.

“The base salary for the General Session Judge in a Class 7 county is $20,000,” Upchurch said. “Now that’s somewhat inaccurate.” 

In the rest of the statute, there are cost-of-living adjustments that change yearly.He said the salary will exceed $20,000. There are also different supplements to different jurisdictions that have a cap of $10,000.

Their current judge that is over both Van Buren and White County has additional jurisdictions over divorce, probate, and juvenile courts. With supplements for each, it was noted the salary would exceed the $20,000 base.

Based on Upchurch’s calculations, since the Administrative’s Office of the Courts hasn’t returned his calls, the salary should be around $50,000 to 55,000. 

“His or her supplement will be another $10,000,” Upchurch said. “So if my calculations are correct, it will be approximately $60,000 to 65,000 for the total compensation that the General Sessions judge will receive.”

“There are some individuals who have already expressed interest in the position,” he continued. “They have also reached out to the AOC or other officials, and they also concur and they believe that’s what the total salary will be.”

The county is also responsible for paying its judge’s cost to attend the two day mid-winter seminar in Nashville and the annual General Sessions Judge Conference in the fall.

The bill was taken off notice March 10 by state Rep. Paul Sherrell of the House. That means it will no longer be heard in committee unless the bill sponsor re-calendars it.

According to Upchurch, House Speaker Cameron Sexton can advance the bill despite it being off notice.

“I do not think the bill is dead,” said Upchurch, “I do not think the bill can’t be considered. It can be considered according to Speaker Sexton’s comments to me.”