Resolution for full time Hawkins juvenile judge returned to committee again

Jeff Bobo • Feb 26, 2020 at 9:45 AM

ROGERSVILLE — It will cost Hawkins County more than $100,000 annually to increase the Juvenile Judge position from being paid for two days per week to becoming a full time position, which has some commissioners hesitant to make that proposed change.

Currently, the Juvenile Judge position pays 40% of what the sessions judge position pays: $68,348. By state law, if the juvenile judge position becomes full-time, that salary would increase to $170,869.

On Monday, however, Judge Daniel Boyd rejected a proposed compromise that would leave it up to the county commission on an annual basis to decide if the juvenile judge position should be paid full time, or for a certain number of days per week.

The amended resolution was tabled Monday at Boyd's request, and will be sent back to the personnel committee again for further discussion.

How we got to this point

In December, Boyd told the personnel committee that his caseload had reached the point that justifies the juvenile judge position becoming full time. Boyd suggested that if the position was made full time it could also take some of the case load from the county's lone sessions judge, Todd Ross.

In January, the commission's personnel committee presented a resolution to the full commission seeking a private act from the Tennessee General Assembly that would allow Hawkins County's juvenile judge position to become full time.

Assuming that act is approved in Nashville, a separate resolution would then have to be approved by two-thirds vote of the county commission before the juvenile judge position went full time.

In January, the original resolution was pulled from the commission agenda and sent back to the personnel committee. Last week the personnel committee recommended an amendment to the original resolution.

Approving judge salary year-to-year

Prior to reading that amendment aloud at Monday's county commission meeting, Personnel Committee Chairman Mark DeWitte stated that he was not in favor of the amendment, which was approved by a majority of the committee.

DeWitte said the commission should send the private act to Nashville, and when it was approved the commission could tweak the resolution as it sees fit. For now, however, the commission can’t make any changes until the private act is approved. 

The proposed amendment stated that the juvenile judge position would receive a salary equal to 20% of the compensation of the sessions judge per court day worked, and the county commission would determine annually by resolution if the juvenile judge position would be full time or part time for that fiscal year.

The juvenile judge would hold court as many days per week as the commission deems appropriate each year to cover the caseload of juvenile court. If the position was deemed to be full time in a certain fiscal year, the judge wouldn't be allowed to maintain a private law practice.

Boyd told the commission Monday he was caught off guard by the committee's amendment. He said the yearly review wouldn't be feasible for him or any other attorney.

“No lawyer will be able to live,” Boyd said. “For instance, if it's deemed full time for the year 2020, and I shut down my law practice and rely on the income to support my family from this (judgeship), and then next year it's changed to be two days per week. Not only do I have to adjust my family budget, but I also have to restart my law practice.”

Boyd added, “There's no way that any lawyer can do that and plan year-to-year based upon the caseload.”

Juvenile Court by the numbers

In December, Boyd reported to the Personnel Committee that he had 928 new petitions filed in 2019.

Boyd told commissioners that clerk of courts Randy Collier ran his numbers for the year.

“I dealt with 1,500 cases — 900 new cases and another 600-700 cases-plus that were filed under old docket numbers,” Boyd said. “That doesn't include the 1,084 child support cases that were assigned to me. The three circuit judges have 500 (cases) that they deal with administratively spread among the three of them.”

Boyd added, “There's not a day that goes by that I'm not up there either handling a detention hearing which have to be heard within 24 hours excluding holidays and weekends, emergency custody petitions … and many times they come to my house at 2 a.m. to have me sign orders to have a child removed.”

Hawkins County Bar Association President Amy Kathleen Skelton also addressed the commission Monday, stating the the association had voted unanimously in favor of a resolution stating that Hawkins County needs a full time juvenile judge.

“The children and families of Hawkins County deserve that,” Skelton said.

At Boyd's request, the commission voted 20-0 to send the resolution back to the personnel committee for further consideration.