Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mike Hammond ditches push to merge Knox County criminal-civil courts

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond is no longer pursuing a proposal to place most of the county’s court system under one umbrella, a plan he pitched in early November to some local leaders.

“It’s just not the right timing for it,” he told WBIR 10News Thursday. “I think politicians – elected officials – need to find ways to save money and streamline things and that’s what I was trying to do, but I didn’t seem to be getting the right traction from folks.”

Hammond first suggested the move to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett in the wake of a WBIR 10News investigation in late October that detailed the county Circuit Court Office's failure to turn over any money to the county coffers – for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in the past six years.

The criminal court clerk is responsible for the criminal, sessions and fourth circuit courts. The circuit court clerk oversees civil sessions and juvenile court.

MORE: Hammond to Mayor: Merge Knox County Court System

MORE: Hammond's memo to the Knox County mayor

MORE: Shanks' memo to the Knox County mayor

MORE: No extra fees from Knox Co Circuit Ct Clerk four years running

In a two-page memo sent to the Mayor’s Office, Hammond proposed several options.

He first suggested merging the criminal and civil sessions courts and putting them under the criminal court clerk's purview. He noted that the sessions court judges already hear cases in both courts and it “would be a relatively easy and smooth transition.”

Hammond’s second proposal - which he favored - would combine both operations but put everything under the control of the circuit court clerk, since the state constitution mandates that counties have a circuit court clerk, but not a criminal court clerk.

Hammond proposes making that move by September 2018 when his and Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Shanks' terms in office end. Since neither are term-limited they could each run for the circuit court clerk position.

Shanks at the time called the proposal "regressive."

"I think what he wants to do – he compared it to Blount County – and that’s the model for small counties," she said. "Large counties don’t do that because it provides better customer service for the court systems to be divided so that they can meet customer needs better."

The issue now is moot.

“Since Cathy had said she wasn’t running again, I thought it was a good idea to suggest it then,” Hammond said. “But it doesn’t seem to be the right time, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s not even an issue.”

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