If two Middle Tennessee lawmakers have their way, litigants in Shelby County may begin facing longer waits to have their cases heard, starting next year. A new bill, SB2511/HB2679, co-sponsored by state Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and state Representative Glen Casada (R-Franklin), would denude the 30th Judicial District (Shelby County) of "one division of circuit court or chancery court " as part of a complicated process to provide two new courts in Middle Tennessee.
The rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul effect of the bill would also mandate a shift of one circuit or chancery court division from the 20th Judicial District (Nashville, Davidson County) to the 21st (Williamson). Simultaneously, the elimination of a court in Shelby County would make possible the creation of a new court in the 16th District (Rutherford, Cannon counties).
Casada, the Republican majority leader of the state House of Representatives, hails from one county that would benefit from the exchange (Williamson, a fast-growing suburban "doughnut" county adjoining Nashville), while Ketron's home base is in another (Rutherford).
The last time legislation was introduced to diminish court representation in Shelby County was in the General Assembly session of 2014 when one of Shelby County's own (state senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) introduced Senate bill 1484, which would have eliminated two circuit court divisions in Shelby County.
That bill was based on a study prepared by state Comptroller Justin Wilson, which was dispatched to members of the General Assembly, including Kelsey, who serves as chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee. Entitled "Tennessee Trial Courts Judicial Weighted Caseload Study," the document suggested, on the basis of population figures, that Shelby County was over-represented in the number of its courts.
The contention was stoutly resisted by members of the Shelby County legal community, who journeyed to the state capitol to make their resistance to the bill known. Then Circuit Court Judge W.A. "Butch" Childers noted, among other things, Shelby County's disproportionate number of medical malpractice litigations and "pro se" cases relating to the county's higher incidence of poverty.
Then state Senator Jim Kyle, now a Chancery Judge himself, noted as well the swelling of Shelby County dockets resulting from cases involving commuting citizens from adjoining areas.
Eventually, that 2014 bill was withdrawn by Kelsey, and no doubt similar objections will be made by local lawyers and judges to the new legislation.