The most recent proposal to redraw judicial districts in Tennessee did not include Anderson County, but the battle isn’t over yet, an official said Wednesday.
Roane County also would not be affected under the proposal, announced Monday by Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican. The proposal could affect 22 of the state’s 95 counties, said Dave Clark, Anderson County district attorney general.
Still, there is a month or more left in the legislative session in the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville, and the proposals—there are more than a dozen—are subject to amendment, Clark said during a Wednesday morning presentation to the Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club.
“We want to make sure Anderson County is not included through the end of the legislative session,” Clark said.
Officials, attorneys, and business leaders in Anderson County have said the redistricting, the first since 1984, could jeopardize court and criminal prosecution programs.
Proposals have called for moving Anderson County, which is now in its own 7th Judicial District, into the 8th or the 9th judicial districts. Offices now based in Clinton could be moved elsewhere.
In the 8th District, Anderson County could be combined with Campbell, Fentress, Scott, and Union counties. In the 9th District, it could be combined with Loudon, Morgan, and Roane counties.
Tennessee now has 31 districts, and each has its own public defender, district attorney general, and usually several judges.
Clark said moving judicial offices and staffs could make it harder to get warrants, schedule court dates, and get legal advice. Litigation costs could be higher, and legal resolution times would be longer, he said.
The redistricting would also affect programs funded by federal grants, including a children’s advocacy center and a crime task force, Clark said.
“This is repeated over and over with regard to our drug court, with regard to our community correction program, and on and on and on,” he said.
He said Anderson County’s daytime population is about 150 percent of its nighttime population.
“We have a civil and criminal caseload that is disproportionately high for our population,” Clark said.
He said the redistricting proposal has been opposed by DAs, public defenders, bar associations, and judges.
“This is a big deal,” Clark said.
It’s been justified on the grounds that resources should be allocated fairly and the districts haven’t been redrawn for about 30 years, and it could save money, among other things.
Clark said the number of districts would be reduced from 31 to 29, possibly saving about $600,000.
He said the judicial districts may need to be re-examined occasionally, but he suggested the proposals introduced this year haven’t received enough study.
“We just don’t think it’s the way do it,” Clark said.