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NC5 Investigates: General Sessions Court

Court Officers Not Expected to Work Full Day

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Judge Casey Moreland Judge Casey Moreland
Court officer David Smith Court officer David Smith
Smith mows lawn during one of many days that court officers get off Smith mows lawn during one of many days that court officers get off

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Our investigation has discovered some other court employees don't have to document whether they work or not.

And get this: you're still paying them.

Inside General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland's courtroom, for example, there are two kinds of employees -- those who are expected to put in a full day's work and those who are not.

Court officers David Smith and his partner Ronnie Crow are two who are not.

"They are supposed to maintain order. They are like the old bailiffs, I guess," Moreland told NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

In fact, while other Metro employees were at work in recent weeks, you might have found Smith collecting his salary of almost $60,000 a year, while working his volunteer job as the director of the Al Menah Shrine Circus. Or stopping by his father's business. Or tending to the yard at his Goodlettsville home.

"If Judge Moreland's not working, I'm not working," Smith told Williams.

And it turns out, he's not doing anything wrong.

"It's a good job," Moreland admitted.

In fact, the judge added, look around the courthouse, and you'll find 20 other General Sessions court officers -- all political appointees -- with similar schedules.

"All court officers work when the court's in session, and they don't work when it's not in session," Moreland said.

That's because the Metro Charter, signed 45 years ago, allows each General Sessions judge to have up to two court officers.

Their one and only job: to "serve at the pleasure" of their judge.

"That's just the way it's always been, and it's probably a situation where it's just real easy to buy into it," Moreland explained.

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Take, for example, when Judge Gloria Dumas goes home on Wednesday afternoons, leaving her environmental docket to be heard by a private attorney.

Her court officers also go home, leaving courthouse security to maintain order in her courtroom.

Or on a Friday when Presiding Judge Gale Robinson only had a 10 a.m. psychiatric hearing on his schedule for the entire day. Just 40 minutes later, he and one of his court officers were finished -- and the court officer went home.

"We don't have a set time that we get off work. I mean, we may be here until 3 o'clock some days, and we may be here until 5 o'clock some days," Smith told Williams.

"Or 11 o'clock some days?" Williams asked.

"Possibly."

And some weeks they don't have to show up at all. That's because the judges work a schedule that gives them close to 10, sometimes 15, weeks off a year.

That's how Smith says he ended up having time off to run the circus.

***
Here's how the schedule works:
Judges work an 11-week rotation.
One "in-office" week is actually a week off.
Another week only has two usually brief, psychiatric committal dockets (10 a.m. Wednesday and Friday).
Many judges skip their week for traffic court, leaving it to a judge in an adjoining court.
When they are on the bench, many courts are finished by early afternoon.
***

Phil Williams asked Moreland, "It's essentially a part-time job, isn't it?"

"Well, when I was in law school, I sure would have liked to have it," the judge answered.

"But should taxpayers be paying someone $60,000 a year for a part-time job?"

"I don't know that it's always a part-time job. It's probably got better hours than most."

Moreland noted that the state judges also have court officers.

But a court administrator says some of them also double as law clerks and executive assistants -- which means they don't get to go home as soon as the judge leaves the bench.

Altogether, the price tag for the 22 court officers in General Sessions Court comes to $1.2 million -- yet no one keeps track of how much they work or how much they're off.

"We work for Davidson County taxpayers," Smith insisted.

In his case, he's already launched his own political campaign for juvenile court clerk in 2010 -- declaring the key issue there to be the need for a "clerk who'll work."

"Absolutely. I'll be there, and I'll work," he told Williams.

And Smith insists he'd be working even more hours in his current job if there was something for him to do.

Williams asked Moreland, "Is the court system so flush with money there's absolutely nothing he could be doing when you're not on the bench?"

"I'm sure that we could find something for him to do somewhere," the judge said.

"But you don't," Williams noted.

"No, we don't," Moreland acknowledged.

But here's the catch: no one can force any of the judges to cut back on the number of court officers -- or to assign them other duties.

The only way to change things would be to amend the Metro Charter -- and that would require a vote of the people.

Back to NC5 Investigates: General Sessions Court

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