Proposals to redistrict Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts may cost Anderson County its full-time judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and their staffs. Proponents want to jumble 15 of Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts containing the state’s 95 counties. The pending proposal would eliminate the 7th Judicial District consisting of Anderson County and combine Anderson, Scott, Union, Campbell, Claiborne, and Fentress counties into a single district. If the move is approved in Nashville, local officials and their offices may be relocated, and many other programs may be terminated.
Currently, Anderson County has a single circuit judge, chancellor, district attorney general, and public defender. All of these offices are located in the county seat in Clinton on a full-time basis. The other counties that are part of the proposed new super-district are headquartered in Scott County in the city of Huntsville, Tenn. It is unclear if redistricting would result in all of Anderson’s current officials relocating to Huntsville. However, what is clear is that under the proposal, Anderson County officials would have duties in other counties, some of them an hour or more away, such as Jamestown, the county seat of Fentress County, located on the Cumberland Plateau bordering Kentucky.
Local leaders are sounding an alarm about the possible implications for Anderson County and its citizens. District Attorney General Dave Clark cautioned that many other organizations, grants, and contracts are tied to each judicial district.
“If we lose our judicial district, we may also lose our children’s advocacy center, crime task force, DUI prosecution grant, drug court, and other programs that are making our community better and safer,” Clark said.
Collectively, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges have been able to reduce crime in Anderson County by almost 20 percent during the last six years by working smarter and giving their undivided attention to one county.
Clark worried that “our success may not be sustainable in a large judicial district where officials divide their attention and presence among as many as six counties and a wide geographic region.”
Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce President Parker Hardy said that the chamber’s Pro-Growth Advocacy Task Force is concerned about the matter too.
“Anderson County is a major employment center and a hub for economic activity associated with that workforce. Far more people work here than live here, and we are concerned that redistricting could negatively impact business in terms of cost, availability, and delivery of judicial services and access to the courts,” Hardy said.
Oak Ridge developer Rick Chinn echoed a similar concern.
“Property values and economic development are slowly picking up in Oak Ridge and Anderson County; we certainly don’t want anything to hurt our community in general or our prospects for economic development in particular,” Chinn said. “It is my understanding that getting our own judicial district 40 years ago was a hard-fought battle. Losing it, it seems to me, would be a huge step backward.”
Oak Ridge attorney Jim Normand also expressed concerns that redistricting would limit and reduce Anderson County citizens’ access to the civil justice system.
“The dockets are crowded now and our judges, prosecutors, and public defenders work very hard and long hours on a full-time basis to keep our justice system moving forward, and it still can take longer than our clients would like to resolve cases,” Normand said. “If judicial redistricting goes through as proposed, our access to the judges and local court dates would be changed so that we may have to travel to outlying county seats like Maynardville or Jamestown to appear in court on such legal matters as probate, divorce, personal injury, and contract disputes, which will result in all court matters taking much longer and being more expensive for everyone. That’s obviously not good for anyone.
“We hope that the citizens of Anderson County and our elected representatives in Nashville will fight to save our judicial district,” Normand said. “Losing it will be a step backward for Anderson County and have nothing but negative consequences for the citizens and businesses of Anderson County.”