U.S. District Judge Jon P. McCalla had a reputation for no nonsense when dealing with the Shelby County jail case. Some even said he was the reason the five-year-old case got moving again.
So when he began a six-month suspension in August, there were some people who were concerned about how U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald, who is presiding over the case in McCalla's absence, would familiarize herself with the more than 500 documents in the case file. These include jail monitors' reports, jail compliance plans, documents from the Department of Justice, and several reports the county files on a monthly basis.
But during a status conference September 25th -- originally scheduled by McCalla -- the judge had each of the case's minor players give her a summary of what has happened since the case's inception. She also told attorneys of her recent tour of the jail and asked questions about it.
"I intend to enforce the orders of the court and to keep this case moving as if McCalla was here," Donald said.
The judge also heard testimony from Dr. Arnett Gaston about gang activity, and Chuck Fisher, the court-appointed special master tothe jail. Fisher's report,which was scheduled to be discussed in more detail at the conference, was delayed until after the jail switches two floors of the facility to direct supervision.
"The deadlines Judge McCalla imposed are still in full effect," Donald said. "There is to be no backing away from anything."
The county's jail experts said they were still ont rack to switch floors five and six, which hold lower-classification inmates, to direct supervision on the fourth on October 4th.
The court set a date in mid-Dcember for their next status conference.
"I don't want to wait until the first of the year to see if this is working," said Donald.
The judge also seemed to be looking for some long-term answers but then remembered that McCalla will preside over the case when he comes back to the bench.
"I'd like to see where we're going," Donald said. "I may be concerning myself with things I don't need to be."