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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For more than three months, our NewsChannel 5 Investigates team watched the Metro courthouse, and one judge left people waiting more than any other judge.
That judge, Gloria Dumas, has been a General Sessions judge for 10 years. Her responsibilities that include issues affecting Nashville's neighborhoods.
"You are by law the environmental judge," asked NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.
"It's set by statute, yes," Dumas answered.
"So that's your job?"
But stop by the environmental court on Wednesday afternoons, and you won't find the environmental judge anywhere.
Instead, you'll find a private attorney who gets paid by taxpayers to hear Dumas' cases for her. She says it's because she can't share the everyday workload with the 10 other judges -- and hear environmental cases on top of that.
"If we could figure out a way ... so that I could set my own schedule, instead of 10 others setting my schedule, then you've got a different issue. I could do it," Dumas said.
Still, when NewsChannel 5 Investigates set up surveillance, we discovered how she really sets her schedule. Often the last to arrive, she's sometimes the first to leave.
"I'm not going to tell you I don't have issues with being late," Dumas admitted to Williams. "I'm not going to tell you I haven't all my life had issues with being late. It is something that I have problems with, always have had problems with."
In fact, while she leaves everyday working folks waiting, we discovered Dumas often doesn't leave her elegant Oak Hill home until well after she's supposed to be in court.
Usually, she arrives at the courthouse at least 30 minutes late, taking another 30 minutes or more to get on the bench.
"Am I saying that's my big old flaw? Yeah," she added. "If you're looking for perfect, you need to throw me out because I am not perfect."
On Sept. 10th, Dumas left her neighborhood at 9 a.m. -- 30 minutes after court was supposed to begin.
By the time she was outside the courthouse, she was almost 45 minutes late. Then she stopped to talk on the phone.
She talked and talked -- until finally, at 9:51, she pulled into the garage -- almost an hour and a half late.
"If you have trouble having the discipline to be on time, do you have the discipline to be a judge?" Williams asked.
"I think I'm a very good judge," Dumas replied.
"Even if you are chronically late?"
"But late depends... you are saying unless I am sitting on the bench at 9 o'clock, I can't be an effective judge. I completely and totally 100 percent disagree with that."
So what about the day William Harris came to court for a suspended license?
"I got here at 7:15 this morning," he told NewsChannel 5 Investigates on Sept. 4th.
Defendants accused of minor offenses are urged to show up as early as 7 a.m. to take care of their charges -- and get back to work. The judges' schedule lists the one-stop docket as 7:30 to 11.
"Nothing is available for the judge to do until 10 o'clock or after -- nothing," Dumas insisted.
But inside the courthouse, our hidden cameras found folks ready to go by 9.
Almost an hour later, at 9:52, Dumas arrived -- but took her time getting to the bench.
"At 5 after 11 is when she showed up," Harris said.
Williams asked Dumas, "If you come in on time, are there people that you could go ahead and get out of there?"
"I don't know," she answered.
Harris was frustrated with the delay. "I don't think it's fair and I don't think it's right for them to come in whenever they want to -- and we have to pay their salaries."
Which brings us back to Dumas' environmental court -- at least, what's supposed to be her court.
Williams asked, "So you're saying your schedule is so jam-packed you could not do this docket ever?"
"I could do it at 5, 6, 7 o'clock at night," the judge said.
But we spotted her arriving just after 10 on one of her environmental court days.. Then, just three and a half hours later, she was finished for the day.
While taxpayers pay someone to hear her cases, we found her downtown, entering a facility specializing in various beauty treatments. Later, before courts were closed, she was picking up her dog from the kennel.
So why didn't she head to environmental court to hear her own cases -- on a day when she obviously had time?
"For me to say, OK, well, today, I can go do this -- you go home -- I don't understand why that would make sense," Dumas said.
As to her frequent tardiness and her reliance on someone else to hear her cases, Judge Dumas insisted it says nothing about her work ethic.
"If this is to say that I'm a judge that doesn't work, I take great exception with that."
She isn't the only one who has an extra docket. Judge Dan Eisenstein hears the so-called mental health court several days a week, while Judge Casey Moreland holds drug court every Wednesday afternoon.
Judge Moreland told NewsChannel 5 that, if you really want to do the job, he believes there are ways to juggle your schedule.
Judges work an 11-week rotation. The 10th and 11th weeks have almost nothing. So that's about 10 weeks a year off -- plus they can also take off any other time they want.