County Commissioner Curtis Adams said Monday there is a backlog of 11,380 cases in Criminal Court and the judges there "need to get their house in order."
The chairman of the commission finance committee told the Pachyderm Club, "We need to make some drastic moves to get this under control - even if it means bringing in some special judges to help us catch up."
In the wide-ranging talk, Commissioner Adams said there is little chance of Hamilton County getting a more favorable Better Education Program (BEP) formula because small counties greatly outnumber large ones.
He said the state could help education by closing many tax exemptions, including those enjoyed by newspapers, cable TV firms, billboard operators, engineering firms and beauty shops.
He said the newspaper already has to pay sales tax on sales in Georgia, but Tennessee is not collecting. He said billboards did $7 million in business in Hamilton County last year, but there were no tax collections on those sales.
Commissioner Adams also told the group there are too many school systems in the state. He said there are 95 counties, but 136 school systems.
He said, "Cleveland has their own, and they pay their superintendent $95,000." He said some school systems have only a few hundred students.
Commissioner Adams told the club it is time the state built a Juvenile Detention Center in Hamilton County. He said, "Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville have one."
He said juvenile crime is increasing dramatically, and there are only 26 jail spaces available here for youths.
On the criminal court topic, he said the backlog number "is unbelievable. I am really concerned about that."
He said, "Do we have enough judges? If we don't, they need to ask us for more. Do they work long hours? Are they trying to get a handle on it?"
He said the judges "need to put their feet down and say 'no more passing cases.'"
The Criminal Court judges are Rebecca Stern, Don Poole who took over after Steve Bevil died, and Barry Steelman, who was just elected in the seat held by Doug Meyer, who retired.
Commissioner Adams said one case was passed 16 times in Criminal Court. He said many defendants are staying in jail over a year and some over two years awaiting trial.
He said, "If those being held that long were tried quicker, we wouldn't have a problem with jail overcrowding."
Commissioner Adams also said the commission will take a close look at the magistrates when that program comes up for renewal soon.
He said the commission made a mistake in not paying the magistrates more. He said, "It was too low a salary at $46,000" to attract top-quality attorneys.
Commissioner Adams said one magistrate set a $100,000 bond on a case involving two neighbors fussing over a limb. He said the case was thrown out in General Sessions Court, but the man had already paid out $10,000 to get out of jail.
He said in a case where a couple's pickup truck and dog were stolen, a $1,000 bond was given a man with an extensive record. Then he did not show up for court.
Commissioner Adams said, "That magistrate should have been fired. He should never hear another case."
He said when someone tells him they have been charged with DUI, he tells them to plead guilty and not get a lawyer.
He said a lawyer will charge $1,500, get the case bound up to Criminal Court and later "will say it has gone on longer than he thought and he needs another thousand."
He said the defendant will wind up getting the same 48-hour sentence he would have gotten in General Sessions Court.