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Ramsey Unveils TN Judicial Redistricting Consensus Plan

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; March 11, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, March 11, 2013) – At a press conference today at Legislative Plaza, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) unveiled a consensus plan to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts. The districts were last drawn nearly thirty years ago in 1984.

Joining Lt. Governor Ramsey were judicial redistricting bill sponsors Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Representative Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) along with Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade, Tennessee Trial Judges Association President Chancellor Daryl Fansler, Tennessee Judicial Conference President Robert Holloway and Tennessee Bar Association President Jackie Dixon.

“When the issue of judicial redistricting was first presented to me it was clear action needed to be taken,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Tennessee is a vibrant and growing state. After thirty years, the changes experienced in our state needs to be reflected in the districts of Tennessee’s judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”

“While the 1984 map made great strides by consolidating public defenders, district attorneys and judges into unified districts, it clear that the particular politics of the time influenced the map resulting in untenable inefficiencies,” Ramsey explained. “This map corrects those mistakes and brings our judicial districts into the 21st century.”

“We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties,” Ramsey continued. “I am pleased that, in the end, all concerned could come together and agree on a consensus plan. I am extremely satisfied with the result.”

The proposed map causes minimal disruption to the current system affecting only 22 counties in 8 districts. To maximize efficiency, the number of judicial districts has been reduced from 31 to 29. Factors such as regional integrity, geographic boundaries and ease of inter-county travel were also heavily considered.

“I would like to commend all involved for working hard to reach common ground,” said Senator Norris. “Change is never easy but we have come together to create a map that ensures Tennesseans get the best possible service from their public defenders, district attorneys and judges.”

“This is a common sense plan for judicial redistricting that corrects the mistakes of the past and updates districts to reflect population changes in the state,” said Rep. Lundberg. “I’m proud to be a part of this process.”

An open call for judicial redistricting proposals went out in February. Fourteen maps were submitted as well as informal input from members of the public and stakeholder groups. The current plan will be presented as Senate Bill 780/House Bill 636 and can be found online at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/judredist/judredist.html.

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Press Releases

Ramsey: Public Participation in Judicial Redistricting ‘Encouraging’

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; March 8, 2013:

(March 8, 2013, NASHVILLE) Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today praised both the general public as well as specific stakeholder groups for their participation in the open judicial redistricting process announced last month at a press conference at the State Capitol.

“The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.”

Fourteen statewide judicial redistricting proposals were submitted in accordance with the guidelines posted online. Those who asked for extensions past the original March 1 deadline were given until March 8 to submit their map.

“While I’m disappointed that the leadership of the Trial Judges Association and the District Attorney’s General Association refused to consider any changes to the 1984 map, I’m very pleased that many individual members of those groups contacted us to offer their ideas and help,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Their individual input was helpful and appreciated.”

Tennessee currently has thirty-one judicial districts which determine the areas judges, district attorneys and public defenders serve. The last judicial redistricting occurred in 1984 — nearly thirty years ago.

“We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties. The submitted maps have given us a lot of good ideas,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “I look forward to working with members of the House and Senate to create a map that takes into account both regional integrity and population growth to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”

To be considered, submitted plans were required to use 2010 federal census data and redistrict the entire state. Regional integrity, geographic boundaries and ease of inter-county travel also had to be considered.

All maps submitted in accordance with the guideline and instructions on how to submit a judicial district plan are now available online at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/judredist/judredist.html.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Public to Get First Look at Proposed Judicial Redistricting Maps

More than a dozen proposals for Tennessee’s first judicial redistricting in nearly 30 years submitted by individual attorneys, district attorneys, public defenders and judges will be unveiled Friday.

“The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement to TNReport. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.”

Judicial redistricting, which would change the way judges, district attorneys and public defenders are allocated throughout the state, has a bearing on the workload of judges and court workers and the efficiency of the state justice system.

The state’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. A key reason why redistricting is needed, legislators say, is that in the past three decades, Tennessee’s population has jumped from 4.5 million to 6.4 million.

Sumner County, for example, makes up the 18th Judicial District. It has a population of 163,686, according to 2011 census numbers, and has one circuit court judge assigned to it. But over in Blount County, where there are 40,000 fewer people, there are two circuit court judges.

Tennessee’s 95 counties are divided into 31 judicial districts. Within each district are circuit courts and chancery courts. Some districts also host criminal courts and probate courts.

Ramsey’s office provided TNReport one example of a map they received of how districts could be redrawn. That example can be seen here.

A request for comment from the Administrative Office of the Courts was not immediately returned. An official with the AOC had previously told TNReport the office had no opinion on whether judicial districts should be redrawn.

Ramsey last month launched a website seeking public input into the creation of the new judicial maps. He also sent a memo about this to interested parties.

“While I have heard from several individual judges and district attorneys, their respective conferences have been MIA in the consensus-building process,” Ramsey said. “I find it curious that the judiciary insists that districts from school board to Congress be strictly drawn to the hallowed ‘one man, one vote’ principle yet balks at the mere suggestion that the principle be applied to itself. We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties.”

Indeed, not everyone is happy with the potential changes coming.

From Knoxville’s Metro Pulse:

The biggest problem, (Chancellor Daryl Fansler, the president of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association) says, is that Ramsey’s memo requires any new redistricting plan to make each of the 12 counties with populations over 100,000 people their own districts. Since the memo restricts increasing the number of districts above 31, that leaves 83 counties to be divided among 19 (or fewer) districts, with just 54 judges to serve them. There could be districts with seven or eight counties apiece, stretching hundreds of miles. Judges, lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants might now have to travel two or three hours to get to court — and court appearances might take a much longer time to get on the schedule.

Ramsey said he believes that the General Assembly will make a map that is fair to Tennessee’s citizens.

“We continue to endeavor to create a map that takes into account both regional integrity and population growth to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders,” he said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Ramsey Soliciting Ideas for New Judicial District Maps

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is expected today to announce he’s seeking input from the legal community and the general public on what reworked state judicial district maps should look like.

Tennessee’s judicial districts have not been redrawn since 1984. And with districts set to elect their district attorneys general, public defenders and state trial court judges this August, some powerful figures in the General Assembly are saying that this legislative session represents the best chance to improve the efficiency of the districts through redistricting.

“The last time our judicial districts were updated Waylon Jennings and Michael Jackson were at the top of the charts,” Ramsey told TNReport in a statement. “Tennessee is a far different place that it was in 1984. Formerly rural counties have become thoroughly suburban, and our suburban counties now confront problems similar to urban areas. We desperately need to take a fresh look at this judicial map to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”

At a forum sponsored by the Associated Press last week, Ramsey said Tennessee’s judicial districts are “completely out of whack.”

Ramsey added that he isn’t particularly looking forward to the undertaking. He indicated the process of legislative redistricting last year was a bigger headache than he’d anticipated.

“Really, there’s no political upside to this,” the East Tennessee Republican said. “It is something that I just think is good government and efficiency and making sure that the judiciary operates as efficiently as we do.”

Ramsey also said that, in addition to the public at large, he is requesting input from those that would be directly affected, such as the Trial Judges Association, the District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee Bar Association.

Officials with the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts have said they have no opinion on redistricting, but Ramsey has said that the process will likely be controversial.

The debate over judicial redistricting is not a new one. Unlike legislative redistricting, it is not mandated by the Tennessee Constitution. And since the mid-1990s — about 10 years after the last redistricting — state officials have been debating how best to go about it — or whether to do it at all.

In 2007, the Comptroller’s Office awarded a $126,522 contract to the Justice Management Institute and George Mason University to conduct a study of potential judicial redistricting in Tennessee (pdf).

The five-page report after the study came to this conclusion: There was no need for redistricting, but more study was needed.

From the report: “Only a few people provided any thoughts about potential benefits, namely the creation of more time available to justice professionals to process cases, lower caseloads and reduced travel time.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.