A group that watches the courts in Hamilton County said there is a "revolving door" for criminals, and that low bonds set by judicial commissioners are a large part of the problem.
Lee Tripp, who heads Court Watch Partners, said one judicial commissioner, James Purple, "is out of control" and should not be given a new contract by the County Commission.
Mr. Tripp also said the group favors hiring five judicial commissioners and putting them on "24/7."
He said, "What do you think when the Sessions Court judges, the district attorney general, the Chattanooga Police officers and the Sheriff’s deputies plus their staffs lose heart and virtually give up due to the 'revolving door' of our jails and CCA?
"Is it that bad? Yes, it is getting close to it.
"One of the main problems is the judicial commissioner (magistrate) system. Low and no bonds send a clear message to criminals and lawbreakers.
"If a person is put under bond and fails to appear in court, it is the responsibility of the bail bondsman to find them and get them to court. If they are on an O.R. (own recognizance) bond and fail to appear, it is their own responsibility to be there. The judge will usually issue a bench warrant for their arrest, which may take years to catch again.
"One judicial commissioner is out of control in issuing low bonds and OR bonds. Common sense doesn’t appear to be something Commissioner James Purple has. His contract should not be renewed and even cancelled if possible. He is the only judicial commissioner that Court Watch Partners receives constant complaints on.
:The Court Watch Partners agree with and support Judge Clarence Shattuck’s recommendation of five fulltime judicial commissioners. We understand also County Mayor Claude Ramsey’s concern in that it will be expensive and can five judicial commissioners cover “24/7” demands. With the insight and experience of County Mayor Ramsey coupled with the judgment and wisdom of the judges, this can be worked out and, yes, with some degree of difficulty and sacrifice on everyone’s part.
"CWP appreciates Chief Judicial Commissioner Bob Meeks for his valued efforts, mostly fighting uphill, to set high standards and develop guidelines for the judicial commissioners to follow.
"We recommend offering the five judicial commissioner positions to some of the assistant district attorney generals. DA Bill Cox is to be commended for the rare ability to seek out the highest quality individuals to work in his office. The ADAs have extensive court experience with defendants, victims, police and judges. With their knowledge and understanding of the judicial process, they would make an extreme improvement as judicial commissioners.
"Yes, the jails and CCA will be overcrowded, but only for a short while. This will send the correct message to criminals and lawbreakers in that we have had enough…your freedom is going to be short-lived…play time is over.
"Justice is silent when those with the power to act against evil no nothing."