Ann Coria has been appointed public defender in the Seventh Judicial District in Anderson County.
A Republican, Coria replaces Tom Marshall, a Democrat who was re-elected to a fourth eight-year term in 2014. Marshall, who had served as Anderson County public defender since 1989, retired at the end of September.
Coria, who has been an assistant public defender and worked in the office for about 20 years, applied for the position. After an interview process and background check, she was appointed district public defender by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Tuesday, October 15.
“I believe that I have the skills to run the office and the knowledge of what’s needed,” Coria said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It is a unique set of skills.”
There will be a special election in 2020 to choose someone who will serve the last two years of Marshall’s eight-year term and a regular election for an eight-year term in 2022.
The Public Defender’s Office is located in Clinton across from the Anderson County Courthouse. Public defenders are appointed by courts to represent defendants who are accused of crimes and can’t afford private attorneys. Besides Coria, other attorneys in the Seventh Judicial District Public Defender’s Office include Les Hunt, Kathy Kroeger, and Nancy Meyer. There is an opening for a fourth attorney, someone to fill Coria’s former position as assistant public defender.
Coria estimated that more than 80 percent of court dockets in the Seventh Judicial District have defendants represented by her office. That means her office has to manage its time well and provide effective representation, she said. She’s done that for 20 years and been a working mother, Coria said. The job requires organization and efficiency, and it requires the office to use taxpayer money wisely, Coria said.
In 2006, Coria ran for Seventh Judicial District attorney general as an independent. On Tuesday, she said she became a Republican a number of years ago. She said she has never really been a Democrat and, when she ran for DA, she recognized that many counties have non-partisan elections and she thought the DA position here ought to be as well.
Now she is focused on efficiency, economy, and not wasting taxpayer’s money, Coria said. That’s in line with the Republican platform, she said. (The public defender’s office is a partisan position in Anderson County.)
“I feel that’s the party that represents my number one goal as a public defender, which is to be efficient with the taxpayer’s money,” Coria said.
It’s one of at least eight county leadership positions that have switched from Democratic control to Republican control since 2014, a reversal of the balance of power. There are now only two Democrats in the 15 partisan countywide elected offices: Anderson County Circuit and Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge and Seventh Judicial District Attorney General Dave Clark.
During the 2006 campaign for DA, Coria advocated for considering alternatives for some non-violent offenders. On Tuesday, she said stands by that now. That’s in line with what the drug court, which wasn’t in place in 2006, tries to do in Anderson County, Coria said. The goal is to help people deal with underlying causes rather than just being punitive.
“The cost of incarceration is huge,” Coria said.
She said there is a statewide initiative by the public defender’s conference to try to get funding for a social worker position in every office and district that could help with mental health treatment and drug and alcohol treatment. The idea is to help people with the underlying problems that lead them to “get caught up” in the criminal justice system, enabling them to lead effective lives, Coria said.
She said the governor is trying to address some of those issues, and the public defender’s office has been offering assistance with expungement/driver’s license clinics, helping people get their driver’s licenses back, stay out of jail, and be productive members of society.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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