NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Monday gave his proposal for redrawing Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984.
The Blountville Republican’s plan would affect just eight of the existing 31 judicial districts. Ramsey said the plan had drawn the support of the association representing the state’s trial judges, who as recently as last week had opposed changing the current judicial map.
“We respect above all else the prerogative of the General Assembly to decide the judicial districts,” said Gary Wade, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. “In one regard we are in perfect harmony, and that is to deliver to the people of Tennessee an accountable judiciary, one that works as efficiently as possible.”
The proposal would create separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey said the plan was limited by not wanting to hurt grants and working groups like drug task forces that are based on the judicial districts.
“If you look at the plan we have here, I think it has minimal disruption,” he said. “There was an aggressive plan that we began with, but that was just a working blueprint.”
Ramsey said the changes are not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will eliminate the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
Ramsey estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000. A complete analysis on the overall cost or savings of the changes has yet to be conducted, he said.
Note: Ramsey news release below
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:
(NASHVILLE, March 11, 2013) – At a press conference today at Legislative Plaza, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) unveiled a consensus plan to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts. The districts were last drawn nearly thirty years ago in 1984.
Joining Lt. Governor Ramsey were judicial redistricting bill sponsors Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Representative Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) along with Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, Tennessee Trial Judges Association President Chancellor Daryl Fansler, Tennessee Judicial Conference President Robert Holloway and Tennessee Bar Association President Jackie Dixon.
“When the issue of judicial redistricting was first presented to me it was clear action needed to be taken,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Tennessee is a vibrant and growing state. After thirty years, the changes experienced in our state needs to be reflected in the districts of Tennessee’s judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”
“While the 1984 map made great strides by consolidating public defenders, district attorneys and judges into unified districts, it clear that the particular politics of the time influenced the map resulting in untenable inefficiencies,” Ramsey explained. “This map corrects those mistakes and brings our judicial districts into the 21st century.”
“We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties,” Ramsey continued. “I am pleased that, in the end, all concerned could come together and agree on a consensus plan. I am extremely satisfied with the result.”
The proposed map causes minimal disruption to the current system affecting only 22 counties in 8 districts. To maximize efficiency, the number of judicial districts has been reduced from 31 to 29. Factors such as regional integrity, geographic boundaries and ease of inter-county travel were also heavily considered.
“I would like to commend all involved for working hard to reach common ground,” said Senator Norris. “Change is never easy but we have come together to create a map that ensures Tennesseans get the best possible service from their public defenders, district attorneys and judges.”
“This is a common sense plan for judicial redistricting that corrects the mistakes of the past and updates districts to reflect population changes in the state,” said Rep. Lundberg. “I’m proud to be a part of this process.”
An open call for judicial redistricting proposals went out in February. Fourteen maps were submitted as well as informal input from members of the public and stakeholder groups. The current plan will be presented as Senate Bill 780/House Bill 636 and can be found online at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/judredist/judredist.html.