Wednesday, August 24, 2005

CITY BEAT

The Memphis Zoo is experiencing a bear market in Pandas.

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2005 at 4:00 AM

UNDERPERFORMERS

It looks like the bull market in giant pandas is over.

Since pandas LeLe and YaYa arrived in Memphis April 7, 2003, with great fanfare, 1.2 million people have seen them in the China Exhibit at the Memphis Zoo. But attendance has fallen well short of the expectations of zoo officials, who predicted an additional 400,000 visitors in the first year. Instead, the increase was 177,590, and, as expected, attendance has continued to decline since 2004.

“We wish we could have made that number, but we had who we had come and we were glad to have them,” said Memphis Zoo spokesman Brian Carter.

Attendance is only one source of revenue for the zoo, along with memberships, donations, and public funding. On a recent visit, the zoo and China Exhibit were spotlessly clean, and the pandas were sleeping in their air-conditioned day rooms behind a wall of glass while a handful of weekday visitors snapped photos.

The Memphis Zoo has a good reputation for frugality. Charity Navigator, which rates charities on spending efficiency, gives the zoo its highest rating of four stars. But pandas are high-maintenance celebrities. To borrow them from the Chinese government, the Memphis Zoo and three other American zoos with giant pandas each agreed to pay $1 million a year. If attendance continues to decline, it could eventually put a strain on zoo finances, especially since a key corporate donor, Northwest Airlines, is facing bankruptcy.

A panda cub would be good for business. LeLe, 7, and YaYa, 5, are just now at reproductive age, but pandas are anything but rabbits and monkeys when it comes to amour. Should a cub be born, the zoo would have to pay a one-time fee of $600,000 to panda conservation programs.

In hindsight, it is beginning to look like the zoos paid Google-like valuations for the much-hyped pandas. A preliminary report mentioned in The Washington Post this month said the four U.S. zoos with pandas — Washington, D.C., San Diego, Atlanta, and Memphis — are sharing attendance data “so they can use them to lobby China to lower panda rental fees when they try to renew their leases.”

Dennis Kelly, the chief executive of Zoo Atlanta, is compiling the figures. He told the Flyer the study will not be complete until September. He is adding data for 2004, which will make it more relevant to Memphis, since the pandas didn’t arrive here until 2003.

Carter said the $16 million China Exhibit is fully paid off, mainly from private funds. As far as renegotiation of the lease, he said “that is something that the Giant Panda Conservation Foundation is working on with the Chinese government.”

“Panda-monium,” as it was hyped by media sponsor The Commercial Appeal and others, crested in 2003 with all the fanfare of the arrival of the Memphis Grizzlies NBA team. Visitors originally paid an extra fee to see the pandas, but now the regular $13 adult admission covers pandas and all other exhibits.

An economic-impact study in 2004 by researchers Jeff Wallace and Andrea Orchik of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis said the pandas would be well worth the investment even after the predictable decline in attendance after the first two years. The study said the zoo had been averaging about 687,000 visitors a year from 1992 to 2002, running neck-and-neck with Graceland as the most popular attraction in Memphis. The authors predicted 400,000 extra visits in the first panda year and an average of 187,500 extra visits each year through 2013. Panda power, the researchers said, translated to $270 million in extra goods and services in the local economy and 4,962 additional jobs.

There were less than half that many additional visitors. Attendance in the first year of the pandas was 820,223, an increase of 177,590 or 27 percent over the previous year. The following year, 2004-2005, attendance declined to 779,007. With temperatures of near 100 degrees and children back in school this week, the gift shop had marked down panda merchandise such as stuffed bears and a photo of Elvis with a panda. LeLe and YaYa, who like a cool climate, were sleeping on rocks with their backs to the windows.

The zoo is moving ahead with its next new attraction, Northwest Passage, which Carter said is 80 percent complete and will open in March 2006. Northwest Airlines, which is battling striking mechanics and has stopped providing free snacks and magazines on its flights to save money, made a financial contribution of an undisclosed amount to the exhibit but is not the title sponsor. The name is geographical and historical, Carter said. “And the red-and-white lettering on the sign [Northwest’s colors] is coincidental, believe it or not.”

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Friday, August 19, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Will Memphis' 30-year optional-school experiment run off the rails?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Too many students, too much of the limelight, and now too much controversy at White Station High School are raising questions about the Memphis City Schools' vaunted optional-schools program, which is 30 years old this year.

Thanks to population growth in East Memphis, high rankings in high school surveys by Newsweek and USA Today, Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings, and the well-established optional program that attracts top students from all over the city, enrollment has exploded to over 2,300 at White Station. The school, which has not had a major capital improvement in over 30 years, was built for about 1,500 students.

Overcrowding isn't the only problem.

"Everything is not perfect at White Station," said Wanda Halbert, president of the Memphis Board of Education and parent of a WSHS student.

Several parents and former students came to a meeting with Halbert and Superintendent Carol Johnson at the school last week. Grievances included personnel changes and a reprimand given to WSHS principal Wanda Winette. Some of the parents saw Halbert as the hidden hand behind both moves, but she said she is misunderstood.

"A lot of people there don't like me," she said. "They've been told things about me but they don't know me."

Halbert did not attend Monday's school board meeting where WSHS parents again voiced their complaints. But the concerns she has about AP courses and the school-within-a school grouping of optional and "traditional" students are shared by other board members and likely to outlast any personality conflicts.

The optional program and parent choice have created an academic powerhouse at WSHS but depleted the talent pool at other city schools. The Class of 2005 was offered $17 million in college scholarships and boasted more than 20 National Merit Scholars. Four current or recently retired members of the school board have had children or siblings at the school. WSHS offered 18 AP classes last year; many city schools offered one or none. A WSHS graduate who spoke at the board meeting will enter Vanderbilt with 21 credits.

White Station (49 percent white, 43 percent black, 8 percent other) has done this with a student body that is much more racially diverse than most public or private schools. At the Bridges Kickoff Classic this weekend, White Station's integrated football team will be easy to recognize because the other schools will be almost all-black or all-white.

"It's a better school than it was when I went there," said Dr. Felix Caldwell, WSHS Class of 1972. He has sent three daughters to WSHS but told board members Monday that parents and teachers are suffering from low morale. In a competitive, ratings-driven environment, a diploma from White Station, bolstered with AP classes and membership in the National Honor Society, can be worth thousands of dollars in scholarships at prestigious colleges where tuition often exceeds $20,000 a year. To Halbert, one of the less-than-perfect things about WSHS and other high schools is the process by which students get into AP classes and the availability of such classes.

"You've got to let every kid go through the same process," she said. "I know they don't. Some are tested and some are not."

And while she does not want to lower standards, Halbert is concerned that "traditional" students in the school system rarely get into the National Honor Society.

Optional-schools director Linda Sklar said 20 MCS high schools offered at least one AP course last year. A student must score at least a 3 on a 1-5 scale to earn college credit. The College Board, which administers the AP program nationwide, is tightening standards.

"You can't place kids in AP who have not had adequate preparation," Sklar said.

As a parent of two recent WSHS graduates, I think Halbert and Sklar both have a point. A system with 118,000 students has unwritten rules for getting ahead and is not always fair. A decade ago, it was easier for a goth to get into Chi Omega at Ole Miss than for an overworked African-American single mom to camp out at the school board to get her kid into the best optional school. Optional schools were a partial solution to the unsolvable problem of white flight. It took years to fine-tune a program that may yet run off the rails.

"The way to keep it on the rails is to keep it fair," says board member Jeff Warren.

The long-range solution is to create more White Stations. To that end, Central High School alumnus and former school board member Dr. Tom Stern is spearheading a drive to raise $3.5 million in private donations for Central. That's a fine start.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

CITY BEAT

Will Memphis’s 30-year optional-school experiment run off the rails? PLUS: Luttrell letter

Posted By on Thu, Aug 18, 2005 at 4:00 AM

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?

Too many students, too much of the limelight, and now too much controversy at White Station High School are raising questions about the Memphis City Schools vaunted optional schools program, which is 30 years old this year.

Thanks to population growth in East Memphis, high rankings in high school surveys by Newsweek and USA Today, Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings, and the well-established optional program that attracts top students from all over the city, enrollment has exploded to over 2,300 at White Station. The school, which has not had a major capital improvement in over 30 years, was built for about 1,500 students.

Overcrowding isn’t the only problem.

“Everything is not perfect at White Station,” said Wanda Halbert, president of the Memphis Board of Education and parent of a WSHS student.

Several parents and former students came to a meeting with Halbert and Superintendent Carol Johnson at the school last week. Grievances included personnel changes and a reprimand given to WSHS principal Wanda Winette. Some of the parents saw Halbert as the hidden hand behind both moves, but she said she is misunderstood.

“A lot of people there don’t like me,” she said. “They’ve been told things about me but they don’t know me.”

Halbert did not attend Monday’s school board meeting where WSHS parents again voiced their complaints. But the concerns she has about AP courses and the school-within-a school grouping of optional and “traditional” students are shared by other board members and likely to outlast any personality conflicts.

The optional program and parent choice have created an academic powerhouse at WSHS but depleted the talent pool at other city schools. The Class of 2005 was offered $17 million in college scholarships and boasted more than 20 National Merit Scholars. Four current or recently retired members of the school board have had children or siblings at the school. WSHS offered 18 AP classes last year; many city schools offered one or none. A WSHS graduate who spoke at the board meeting will enter Vanderbilt with 21 credits.

White Station (49 percent white, 43 percent black, 8 percent other) has done this with a student body that is much more racially diverse than most public or private schools. At the Bridges Kickoff Classic this weekend, White Station’s integrated football team will be easy to recognize because the other schools will be almost all-black or all-white.

“It’s a better school than it was when I went there,” said Dr. Felix Caldwell, WSHS Class of 1972. He has sent three daughters to WSHS, but told board members Monday that parents and teachers are suffering from low morale. In a competitive, ratings-driven environment, a diploma from White Station, bolstered with AP classes and membership in the National Honor Society, can be worth thousands of dollars in scholarships at prestigious colleges where tuition often exceeds $20,000 a year. To Halbert, one of the less-than-perfect things about WSHS and other high schools is the process by which students get into AP classes and the availability of such classes.

“You’ve got to let every kid go through the same process,” she said. “I know they don’t. Some are tested and some are not.”

And while she does not want to lower standards, Halbert is concerned that “traditional” students in the school system rarely get into the National Honor Society.

Optional Schools director Linda Sklar said 20 MCS high schools offered at least one AP course last year. A student must score at least a 3 on a 1-5 scale to earn college credit. The College Board, which administers the AP program nationwide, is tightening standards.

“You can’t place kids in AP who have not had adequate preparation,” Sklar said..

As a parent of two recent WSHS graduates, I think Halbert and Sklar both have a point. A system with 118,000 students has unwritten rules for getting ahead and is not always fair. A decade ago, it was easier for a Goth to get into Chi Omega at Ole Miss than for an overworked African-American single mom to camp out at the school board to get her kid into the best optional school. Optional schools were a partial solution to the unsolvable problem of white flight. It took years to fine-tune a program that may yet run off the rails.

“The way to keep it on the rails is to keep it fair,” says board member Jeff Warren.

The long-range solution is to create more White Stations. To that end, Central High School alumnus and former school board member Dr. Tom Stern is spearheading a drive to raise $3.5 million in private donations for Central. That’s a fine start.

Letter from Sheriff Mark Luttrell

(Read previous "City Beat" for reference.)

August 15, 2005

Mr. John Branston
Memphis Flyer
460 Tennessee Street
Memphis, TN 38103

Dear Mr. Branston:

After publication of the Flyer story regarding Bailiff’s time spent in courtrooms produced such opposition from a number of Judges, the Internal Audit Bureau of the Sheriff’s Office conducted an audit of the system producing the reports. The audit revealed that the data being reported was seriously flawed and was not an accurate representation of the bailiffs’ courtroom activity.

Audit Bureau personnel attempted to correct the reports for the six months period depicted in the Flyer article; however, the absence of critical data made it impossible to accurately reconstruct the reports to show accurate information. A sampling of the auditors’ findings includes:

1) Collected June time sheets for all Civil Courts indicate that logs have been lost, misplaced or were never completed and returned to the court office. An examination of Civil Courts Division records for the month of June indicates that only one court, General Sessions Division IV, had a complete set of logs for the month of June (22 logs out of 22 court days).

2) Collected June time sheets for Criminal Courts indicate that logs have been mislabeled or misidentified by the reporting deputies. Division 8 was in session for 12 days and had 19 days of log sheets.

3) Several deputies consistently complete log sheets and do not identify the courts to which they were assigned.

4) A standard for identifying the type of court does not exist. The identifier for Civil Courts listed on the logs ranges from GS (General Sessions) to CC (Criminal Court) to GC (General Sessions Criminal Court), etc;.

5) The archived logs are not secured or kept in sequential order. A securable filing system should be established with a agreed upon time frame for archival purposes

6)There is no indication that the logs are reviewed by supervisors at the end of the day. Time sheets should be returned to officers to correct errors.

7) Court room deputies should be able to account for a minimum of 480 minutes. Many of the logs fall below that threshold.

8) Temporarily assigned officers and overtime officers do not always turn in time sheets.

9) If an officer works more than one court, data entry clerks automatically use the reassigned category as the default listing. By placing the data into the reassigned category the tabulated time for the courts becomes incorrect.

10) Audits should be performed twice a year, at a minimum. Monthly reports should be the responsibility of the courts.

Based on the findings of the Audit Bureau, I determined that correcting existing reports would not be feasible and that any revised reporting would require an inordinate amount of “estimation” to substitute for missing data. Accordingly, revised reports would serve no real purpose and the decision was made to concentrate all efforts to correcting the flawed system and ensure that future reports would be accurate.

Top staff in the Courts Division have already developed policies and procedures to ensure that time is accurately captured and entered into the computer system with appropriate checks and balances to prevent a recurrence of the flawed data situation existing today. The audit Bureau will conduct regular audits of the process and the data to ensure compliance with the policies and procedures and the integrity of the data reported.


Sincerely,

Mark H. Luttrell, Jr.
Sheriff of Shelby County

Friday, August 12, 2005

Benched

Judge fires back at Sheriff Luttrell, who says bailiffs' time report was flawed.

Posted By on Fri, Aug 12, 2005 at 4:00 AM

A report on the amount of time that bailiffs spend in courtrooms produced by Sheriff Mark Luttrell and published in last week's Flyer was flawed, Luttrell said this week.

"I have called in my audit team to come back and look at the data one more time," he said. "We have got a data entry problem. To what extent, we don't know."

Luttrell said several judges complained about the data. He said he has been compiling the data for three years, audits it internally, and then makes it available to Shelby County Commission members and judges, although there is disagreement between him and some judges about the availability of the data as well as its accuracy.

"This is the first time it has been brought to my attention that we have an error," he said. "It wasn't as solid as I have been told."

The report showed the number of hours sheriff's deputies working as bailiffs spent in 38 courtrooms for the first six months of 2005 for court, court preparation, non-sequestered juries, and standby/recess. Luttrell said the error was discovered in the data for some of the General Sessions Criminal courts for June and in Judge Louis Montesi's courtroom in particular.

On Monday, Luttrell said he notified all judges by letter that "inaccuracies have been discovered regarding data input" and that a review was under way.

"Just as soon as I have a full report about this matter, I will again be contacting you and The Memphis Flyer as well to clarify the story," he said in the letter.

Luttrell said in an interview Tuesday that the errors were in reports for March and June and were caused by "a management problem" and court officers not keeping accurate time reports or not submitting them at all. In Montesi's courtroom, corrected figures showed deputies were on duty 6.27 hours a day on average this year, compared to 4.8 hours in the original report, and 6.03 hours in June as opposed to 1.66 hours in the original report. Luttrell said corrected reports for six months should be finished for all courtrooms this week.

The Flyer published the survey as a broad measurement of judicial accountability and courtroom usage, noting seasonal fluctuations in the hours worked by deputies in the summer and between different courtrooms in the same division of courts over a six-month period.

Circuit Court judge Rita Stotts, who is presiding judge for the Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Court judges, said that bailiff time reports are both an inaccurate and unfair measurement of a judge's work habits.

"Just because a judge is not on the bench does not mean the judge is not working," she said. "It is so unfair to us."

Luttrell said he makes the reports available to judges and meets periodically with Stotts on a court security committee for which they are co-chairmen.

"We have on several occasions referenced these reports to them and periodically released them to them," he said. "I think last year we had a lengthy discussion about court security. We shared the format with them that we follow to account for our officers."

Stotts said judges only see the reports if they ask for them, and they have no input into them and do not verify their accuracy. In any case, she said, they reflect only the time that deputies say they spend in courtrooms, not the time that judges work both on and off the bench. In an interview in her chambers this week, Stotts said she is "inundated" with memos that she must read each week to prepare.

"So much of what we do, particularly on the civil side if we are successful, is perhaps not spending a lot of time on the bench," she said. "There is so much paper generated in civil courts. On Fridays, here in Circuit Court we hear motions. Like a teacher or professor, I've got to spend the time to get ready for that motion, looking at those papers."

After hearing Stotts' criticisms, Luttrell said there is "overlap" between the time that judges work and the deputy time sheets, "but we are not monitoring the judges' workload. I fully understand they have things they deal with in chambers and in meetings with attorneys."

Stotts said she could not say whether all judges are equally industrious.

"There is no way for me to know that because this job is pretty isolated," she said. "I don't know what is going on in any other courtroom for the most part. Due to the nature of the business, you are here and you have no clue what another judge is doing."

Like most professionals, judges do not keep time sheets. The various court clerks' offices provide monthly data about filings and dispositions, but they are not summarized into a single measurement. "Dispositioned cases," for example, are broken down into nine different codes, each with a detailed explanation. A judge who makes it a policy not to continue cases will get high numbers, Stotts said, but she added that there are sometimes good reasons to continue a case. She herself was hearing a case this week that began in 1988 and has been through the Circuit Court of Appeals and federal court.

"It sounds horrific, but there are legitimate reasons why the case has not been resolved before now," she said.

Records compiled by the Circuit Court clerk's office show that there were 10,166 pending cases in Circuit Court alone at the end of 2004.

Stotts said she would be wary of a performance measurement such as a letter grade, standardized test score summary, or "failing" designation that is applied to Tennessee public school systems and individual schools and their students.

"I would hate to see the day when justice becomes a number," she said.

Further complicating accountability measurements is the fact that deputies are sheriff's employees, judges' clerks work for the Circuit Court clerk, law clerks are funded by Shelby County, and Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Court judges are state employees. The repository of courtroom data is the Administrative Office of the Courts in Nashville, but it will prepare a case management report on a particular judge or class of judges only if someone specifically asks for it and pays the costs of producing it.

"Everybody is basically marching to somebody else's drumbeat," Stotts said.

All elected judges will run for reelection in 2006, and, if form holds, most will have at least one opponent. Judges in the state courts and General Sessions courts serve eight-year terms and are currently paid $118,548 a year. Stotts said she will rely on word of mouth, civic activities, speeches, and endorsements to make her own case to voters but will probably not use data from the Circuit clerk's office or the results of the upcoming judicial survey by the Memphis Bar Association, which polls approximately 600 attorneys who practice in the courts. She believes the survey sample can be skewed.

"We don't sit here as judges and have some kind of check mark for lawyers," she said. "I don't have a list of lawyers, where every time they come in I am keeping up with whether he was late or unprepared. Everything is on a case-by-case basis, but apparently we are not being given that same kind of leeway."

She said litigants and their families should have input on judicial ratings. "Is anybody capturing the opinion of the people who've been in the courtroom?" she asked.

No one has found a way to systematically survey those people.

"The sheriff has a publicist," Stotts said. "If he goes to a nursing home or something, he has paid people to make him look good. We don't have that luxury."

The sheriff's department, with a budget of $130 million and 2,035 employees, has a public-affairs spokesman. Luttrell declined comment on the charge.

Luttrell, who will also be on the ballot in 2006 if he seeks reelection, said the time reports help him deploy deputies to courtrooms efficiently. He has unsuccessfully lobbied the Shelby County Commission to allow him to use part-time retired deputies as bailiffs. Some judges, citing attacks in courtrooms in other cities, think that would compromise safety.

"I don't think this issue has been a problem for other sheriffs," said Stotts. "It seems to be an issue of priorities. Apparently, other sheriffs have felt that their statutory duty to provide security in court was a high priority."

Luttrell said budget tightening has forced him to address "a number of issues that were not issues with previous sheriffs."

Stotts said performance measurements and numerical ratings which are now used for schools, colleges, and even "livable cities" may be "the wave of the future," but she still thinks they have problems for judges whose approach is "one litigant at a time."

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

CITY BEAT

Judge fires back at Sheriff Luttrell, who says bailiffs’ time report was flawed.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 9, 2005 at 4:00 AM

BENCHED

A report on the amount of time that bailiffs spend in courtrooms produced by Sheriff Mark Luttrell and published in last week’s Flyer was flawed, Luttrell said this week.

“I have called in my audit team to come back and look at the data one more time,” he said. “We have got a data entry problem. To what extent, we don’t know.”

Luttrell said several judges complained about the data. He said he has been compiling the data for three years, audits it internally, and then makes it available to Shelby County Commission members and judges, although there is disagreement between him and some judges about the availability of the data as well as its accuracy.

“This is the first time it has been brought to my attention that we have an error,” he said. “It wasn’t as solid as I have been told.”

The report showed the number of hours sheriff’s deputies working as bailiffs spent in 38 courtrooms for the first six months of 2005 for court, court preparation, non-sequestered juries, and standby/recess. Luttrell said the error was discovered in the data for some of the General Sessions Criminal courts for June, and in Judge Louis Montesi’s courtroom in particular.

On Monday, Luttrell said he notified all judges by letter that “inaccuracies have been discovered regarding data input” and that a review was underway.

“Just as soon as I have a full report about this matter, I will again be contacting you and The Memphis Flyer as well to clarify the story,” he said in the letter.

Luttrell said in an interview Tuesday that the errors were in reports for March and June and were caused by “a management problem” and court officers not keeping accurate time reports or not submitting them at all. In Montesi’s courtroom, corrected figures showed deputies were on duty 6.27 hours a day on average this year, compared to 4.8 hours in the original report, and 6.03 hours in June as opposed to 1.66 hours in the original report. Luttrell said corrected reports for six months should be finished for all courtrooms this week.

The Flyer published the survey as a broad measurement of judicial accountability and courtroom usage, noting seasonal fluctuations in the hours worked by deputies in the summer and between different courtrooms in the same division of courts over a six-month period.

Circuit Court Judge Rita Stotts, who is presiding judge for the Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Court judges, said that bailiff time reports are both an inaccurate and unfair measurement of a judge’s work habits.

“Just because a judge is not on the bench does not mean the judge is not working,” she said. “It is so unfair to us.”

Luttrell said he makes the reports available to judges and meets periodically with Stotts on a court security committee for which they are cochairmen.

“We have on several occasions referenced these reports to them and periodically released them to them,” he said. “I think last year we had a lengthy discussion about court security. We shared the format with them that we follow to account for our officers.”

Stotts said judges only see the reports if they ask for them, and they have no input into them and do not verify their accuracy. In any case, she said, they reflect only the time that deputies say they spend in courtrooms, not the time that judges work both on and off the bench. In an interview in her chambers this week, Stotts said she is “inundated” with memos that she must read each week to prepare.

“So much of what we do, particularly on the civil side if we are successful, isperhaps not spending a lot of time on the bench,” she said. “There is so much paper generated in civil courts. On Fridays, here in Circuit Court we hear motions. Like a teacher or professor, I’ve got to spend the time to get ready for that motion looking at those papers.”

After hearing Stotts’ criticisms, Luttrell said there is “overlap” between the time that judges work and the deputy time sheets, “but we are not monitoring the judges’ workload. I fully understand they have things they deal with in chambers and in meetings with attorneys.”

Stotts said she could not say whether all judges are equally industrious.

“There is no way for me to know that because this job is pretty isolated,” she said. “I don’t know what is going on in any other courtroom for the most part. Due to the nature of the business, you are here and you have no clue what another judge is doing.”

Like most professionals, judges do not keep time-sheets. The various court clerks’ offices provide monthly data about filings and dispositions but they are not summarized into a single measurement. “Dispositioned cases,” for example, are broken down into nine different codes, each with a detailed explanation. A judge who makes it a policy not to continue cases will get high numbers, Stotts said, but she added that there are sometimes good reasons to continue a case. She herself was hearing a case this week that began in 1988 and has been through the Circuit Court of Appeals and federal court.

“It sounds horrific, but there are legitimate reasons why the case has not been resolved before now,” she said.

Records compiled by the Circuit Court Clerk’s office show that there were 10,166 pending cases in Circuit Court alone at the end of 2004.

Stotts said she would be wary of a performance measurement such as a letter grade, standardized test score summary, or “failing” designation that is applied to Tennessee public school systems and individual schools and their students.

“I would hate to see the day when justice becomes a number,” she said.

Further complicating accountability measurements is the fact that deputies are sheriff’s employees, judges’ clerks work for the Circuit Court clerk, law clerks are funded by Shelby County, and Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Court judges are state employees. The repository of courtroom data is the Administrative Office of the Courts in Nashville, but it will prepare a case management report on a particular judge or class of judges only if someone specifically asks for it and pays the costs of producing it.

“Everybody is basically marching to somebody else’s drumbeat,” Stotts said.

ALL ELECTED JUDGES WILL RUN for reelection in 2006, and, if form holds, most will have at least one opponent. Judges in the state courts and General Sessions courts serve eight-year terms and are currently paid $118,548 a year. Stotts said she will rely on word of mouth, civic activities, speeches, and endorsements to make her own case to voters, but will probably not use data from the Circuit Clerk’s office or the results of the upcoming judicial survey by the Memphis Bar Association, which polls approximately 600 attorneys who practice in the courts. She believes the survey sample can be skewed.

“We don’t sit here as judges and have some kind of check-mark for lawyers,” she said. “I don’t have a list of lawyers, where every time they come in I am keeping up with whether he was late or unprepared. Everything is on a case-by-case basis, but apparently we are not being given that same kind of leeway.”

She said litigants and their families should have input on judicial ratings. “Is anybody capturing the opinion of the people who’ve been in the courtroom?” she asked.

No one has found a way to systematically survey those people.

“The sheriff has a publicist,” Stotts said. “If he goes to a nursing home or something, he has paid people to make him look good. We don’t have that luxury.”

The sheriff’s department, with a budget of $130 million and 2,035 employees, has a public affairs spokesman. Luttrell declined comment on the charge.

Luttrell, who will also be on the ballot in 2006 if he seeks reelection, says the time reports help him deploy deputies to courtrooms efficiently. He has unsuccessfully lobbied the Shelby County Commission to allow him to use part-time retired deputies as bailiffs. Some judges, citing attacks in courtrooms in other cities, think that would compromise safety.

“I don’t think this issue has been a problem for other sheriffs,” said Stotts. “It seems to be an issue of priorities. Apparently other sheriffs have felt that their statutory duty to provide security in court was a high priority.”

Luttrell said budget tightening has forced him to address “a number of issues that were not issues with previous sheriffs.”

Stotts said performance measurements and numerical ratings which are now used for schools, colleges, and even “livable cities” may be “the wave of the future” but she still thinks they have problems for judges whose approach is “one litigant at a time.”

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