Bedford County Sessions Court Judge Charles Rich has named former Sheriff Clay Parker and Parker's former department administrator, John Milner, as additional judicial commissioners here.
Naming Parker and Milner will double the number of judicial commissioners employed by Bedford County. Judge Rich cited a lawsuit against Wilson County and advice from one of his current two judicial commissioners as explanation for the need of additional commissioners here.
"We've been doing it the same way for 20 years and some county commissioners had expressed some concerns about having someone down there [in the judicial commissioners' office] all the time to be available for people who want to swear out a warrant," Judge Rich said, confirming information from several county officials who identified Parker and Milner, but spoke on a condition of anonymity.
Litigation against Wilson County, as mentioned by Rich, alleges officials in Lebanon had unconstititutionally and arbitrarily set bonds, according to the Lebanon Democrat newspaper. On Aug. 18, federal Judge Aleta Traughber ruled that a Mt. Juliet resident can, with attorney Jerry Gonzales, represent approximately 42,000 people who've had bail set by a judicial commissioner at the Wilson County Jail since 2001. "Excessive" bail is alleged.
Judicial commissioners' duties also include receiving complaints from people who want to swear out arrest warrants and charge someone with a crime when there is no law enforcement officer who can do that because they'd not witnessed the alleged crime.
Four judicial commissioners will cost Bedford County $116,240 per year, the budget shows. That's $28,660 in salary for each commissioner, plus $800 and $500 for longevity bonuses for the current commissioners. Office costs are the balance of the itemized accounts.
Rich said Parker and Milner would start work on Sept. 29. Attempts to reach Parker were unsuccessful. Parker had known that he'd be leaving the office of sheriff since results of the Democratic primary in May when Randall Boyce became the party's nominee. Boyce won the general election Aug. 3 and has been sheriff 21 days.
Rich said Parker "seemed like a logical choice" for the position which is manned in an office at the rear of the county jail.
]"He's a fourth-year law student and has been in law enforcement for 25 years," Rich said of Parker, who's been attending the Nashville School of Law, which caters to the schedules of working people. "There's very little to do for training. He knows the function of the job."
Since the two new positions are included in the county's 2006-07 fiscal year budget, it's clear that county commissioners approved the doubling of those parts of the budget and some considered the idea during committee meetings before the budget was adopted in July. That indicates there were recommendations for the additional funding in June and possibly in May.
Rich also noted Milner's experience in law enforcement as a reason to select him for one of the two new positions.
Milner's law enforcement career started in 1987, but he retired in late 2003, only to return to work again for Parker this year. His title was chief administrator of the Bedford County Sheriff's Department.
Being a judicial commissioner "is something that's interested me ever since I was in law enforcement, but it didn't pay enough," Milner said. He can afford to take the job now because he's drawing Social Security benefits, he said.
"It's a full-time job with benefits," Milner confirmed of the position of judicial commissioner.
"Everybody is to see a judicial commissioner before they're put in the jail," Milner said of the rights of people accused of crimes. "It's supposed to be explained to them why they're being put in jail, plus the commissioner sets the bond.
"That has not exactly been done in Bedford County due to the lack of judicial commissioners," he said.
The class-action lawsuit against Wilson County alleges a pre-determined formula was frequently used without regard for the circumstances of a defendant who may or may not be a flight risk, or have significant ties to the community, according to the Lebanon Democrat.
While a settlement may be negotiated in the case, the federal judge left the door open for punitive damages, the newspaper reported.
News of that case "has gotten our attention lately," Rich said.
At about the same time, Bedford County Judicial Commissioner Terry Stacey "had asked me about looking into having more judicial commissioners," Rich said. "That was before the suit in Wilson County."
Decades ago, in other counties, arrest warrants have been issued by the clerks of circuit and general sessions courts. For example, arrest warrants issued in Marshall County have a place for the issuing official to sign and verify that the complainant has said what's alleged. The place for the signature is listed for a judge, a clerk or a magistrate.
Bedford County Circuit Court Clerk Thomas Smith's office will issue warrants only for the charge of passing worthless checks.
"The statute does not allow me to issue any kind of state warrants or criminal warrants other than passing worthless checks and in that case the store, or the individual is the [person leveling charges] affiant," Smith said.
The number of bad check warrants issued by the clerks office is approximately "30-50 per month," Smith said. There had been more before Wal-Mart hired a collections agency.
Judge Rich said he anticipated a swearing in ceremony for Parker and Milner on the day they're scheduled to start work as judicial commissioners.