Armed with support from a prominent former African-American official, Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person issued his harshest attack yet on Wednesday against the Shelby County Commission for its ongoing effort to create a second court judgeship.
Speaking to the downtown Kiwanis Club at The Peabody, Person said the commission majority had voted to create another Juvenile Court judge for "political" reasons only and had caused serious "disruptions" in the work of the Court. "Employees have been assaulted, they have been demoralized, they have been discredited with misinformation," Person said.
"To have two judges at the Juvenile Court who have competing personalities and conflicting personalities will do nothing but result in chaos. Absolute chaos," Person said, going on to insist that "every major juvenile court in the state of Tennessee" had, like Shelby County at present, "one judge and multiple referees.".
Person countered the argument that Juvenile Court should have multiple judges like other local court jurisdictions by saying there were differences that made Juvenile Court "unique" - namely, several administrative responsibilities that are currently entrusted to the elected judge.
Defending his thesis about political motivations on the part of the commission, Person said, "I was elected with a 24,000-vote majority over the closest of my opponents. I was sworn in on September 1 , and on September 6, the commission voted to establish a second court." He said he received no advance word of the proposal, which the commission majority (seven Democrats and Republican member Mike Carpenter) refused to defer - though minor proposals presented on the same day were deferred, Person said.
Subsequently, Person filed suit to block the creation of a second judgeship. After a temporary withdrawal of its action, the commission ultimately voted again in favor of a second court, and its action has been upheld in Chancery Court. Person appealed that ruling and has asked the state Supreme Court to intervene directly and hear the case. Ironically, the commission itself voted in a special meeting Wednesday to petition the Court for the same action.
After his remarks were concluded, Person got an immediate boost from Kiwanian Fred Davis, who was the first African-American elected to the city council back in the '70s. Noting his own involvement over the years in support activities for Juvenile Court, Davis accused "certain people" on the county commission of supporting the second judgeship for "absolutely self-serving" reasons.
"I'm going to hang with you on this," Davis assured Person. Afterward, the former councilman made a point of telling Person and several bystanders that commissioner Henri Brooks, a leader in the second-judgeship push who among other things has called for a Justice Department investigation of Juvenile Court, was "the biggest crock of crap I've ever seen."