Commission Votes 8-5 for Second Juvenile Court Judge 

As expected, the Shelby County Commission on Monday voted 8-5 (the majority being the body’s seven Democrats plus Republican commissioner Mike Carpenter) for Commissioner Deidre Malone’s resolution to approve the establishment of a second Juvenile Court judge. GOP commissioners on the losing side alluded to the reality: This court change itself will undergo a court test through judicial appeal.

Charges of “partisan politics” were made by commissioners on both sides of the controversial issue, though Carpenter made a point of reminding his fellow commissioners of his “impeccable” GOP credentials. Among the arguments he made in favor of the second judge was that, under the established structure, the single Juvenile Court Judge had “too much power.”

Democrat Steve Mulroy presented a carefully reasoned argument in favor of conforming to precedent elsewhere and for reordering Court priorities in favor of an elected second judge as against three additional appointed referees.

GOP Commissioner Wyatt Bunker advocated that the commission approve a previously proposed comprehensive study before acting and objected that otherwise the body would be offering “piecemeal” solutions. His Republican colleague David Lillard suggested that, if change were needed, then “seven or eight” more juvenile court judges would be in order. (Under longstanding legislative sanction, only a second judge is currently authorized.) Lillard said “more substantive remedies” would serve the Court better.

A similar tack was taken by Republican Mike Ritz, who, like Lillard, pointed out that the commission’s action would be subject to immediate appeal. He said, however, that regardless of the outcome, commissioners on both sides should “walk this path together.”

Democrat Sidney Chism said that opponents of the change were advocating “anything but a second judge” and, as an African American, said the change was necessary for the sake of “people who looks like me, who walk like me, and talk like me.”

If Chism underlined the racial reality of things, GOP commissioner Joyce Avery emphasized the political angle -- stating that it was apparently the election as Juvenile Court Judge of former Republican state senator Curtis Person that triggered Malone's motion (which was first proposed last November).

"After the election, everything's wrong with Juvenile Court," said Avery, who proposed acting first on another resolution, to fund a $50,000 study on the workings of Juvenile Court.

The study proposal itself was voted on later and was approved by a 12-1 margin. The lone dissenter was Avery, who called the order of voting on Monday a case of "cart before the horse.:"

--Jackson Baker

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