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Judges and attorneys sound off about the Flyer and Sheriff Luttrell



As Jack Nicholson said as private eye Jake Gittes in Chinatown, I'm not supposed to be the one who gets caught with his pants down. But since I am, I might as well take a spanking.

Here's what lawyers and judges are saying about the Flyer, Shelby County sheriff Mark Luttrell, and our story about courtroom deputy time reports, which Luttrell said last week are irreparably flawed for the first six months of 2005 (after first saying they were audited and could and would be fixed). Since I'm an advocate of user-friendly disclosure that isn't spread out all over the place, I've repeated a few things that previously appeared in another story or our letters-to-the-editor space. My two cents' worth is at the end.

"Judge Butch [Robert] Childers [Circuit Court, Division 9] works his butt off. He's gone the extra mile. I get bothered when I see a judge giving 110 percent on the job and then see false statistics being reported. It falls under the heading of no good deed goes unpunished." -- attorney Larry Rice

"I know about how many hours I've got personally in Judge Childers' courtroom. I've seen the court officer's daily logs, but I don't believe they're complete. The deputies can't be made the fall guys in this." -- attorney David Caywood

"I wanted to make sure I did not have people waiting around for their cases to be heard." -- Judge Lonnie Thompson, General Sessions Civil Division 6, on clerk reports that show his court disposed of 2,328 cases by trials between 1998 and July 2005 -- nearly 400 more than any other division. Deputy time in Johnson's court was underreported by the sheriff's office. "I don't know where he's getting the numbers from," said Thompson.

"Just because a judge is not on the bench does not mean he is not working. It's so unfair to us." -- Circuit Court judge Rita Stotts, presiding judge of the Chancery, Circuit, and Criminal Court judges

"The public has had enough of irresponsible journalism. ... I work hard every workday as a judge in General Sessions Civil Court. It can never be said that I don't do my job and that I don't handle each and every task that comes before me. Though my job may not always require an eight-hour day I never have and never will neglect any of my duties whatever the hour or hours." -- General Sessions judge Betty Thomas Moore, Division 5

"It has been pointed out to you in a number of letters that the judges spend a considerable amount of time in chambers preparing for court. In addition, I believe that you would find, if you took the time to check, that the judges spend many more hours on the bench than the sheriff's report suggests. ... Let's stop this political posturing and work together to make our system of justice safe for all involved." -- attorney Bernie Weinman

"I'm not going to fall on my sword." -- Sheriff Mark Luttrell

Luttrell is guilty of putting out bad data, as I am by association, but he is on the right track. There is a backlog of thousands of cases at the same time there is a lot of down time in some courts. If all judges are doing a great job, then there's a scheduling problem. Or cops are writing too many tickets. Or we need more judges. Night court, anyone? And if some judges are less great than others, then the public needs some useful accountability measurements.

No one can be in every court at once, but Luttrell's deputies can come as close as humanly possible. Bench time, accurately and repeatedly measured over time within the same type of courts, is one indicator of judicial performance, along with the Memphis Bar Association survey and anything the judges and clerks themselves can come up with.

We rate our schools, colleges, cars, restaurant kitchens, mutual funds, and cities. One year from now, Shelby County voters will elect 40 local judges. They don't call it the long ballot for nothing. If you have buyer's remorse, you can vote again -- in 2014. The two most common words on judges' campaign materials will be "experienced" and "reelect." That's not enough.

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