NASHVILLE — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey today rolled out a consensus plan redrawing eight of Tennessee’s 31 judicial districts, leaving the 10th, 11th (Hamilton County) and 12th judicial districts untouched.
The plan changed substantially from behind-the-scenes plans developed by Ramsey, the Senate Republican speaker, with input from judges’ groups and the Tennessee Bar Association.
The plan eliminates two tiny judicial districts near Chattanooga and merges them into one. Coffee County currently is the only county in the 4th Judicial District with its own judges, a district attorney general and a public defender.
It will now be joined with Van Buren and Warren counties, which are currently part of the 31st Judicial District.
A similar merger will take place in West Tennessee between two tiny judicial districts, dropping the number of districts statewide from 31 to 29. The changes in West Tennessee alone should save the state $600,000, Ramsey said.
Last week, Ramsey said 14 different groups had submitted proposed redistricting plans and voiced disappointment that judges and district attorneys general had not.
Late in the week, Ramsey and judges said, concerned judges’ groups met with Ramsey on a plan they felt was less disruptive. The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference never did, Ramsey said.
Hamilton County is a stand alone district and remains untouched. The 10th District includes Bradley, Polk, Monroe and McMinn and also is unaffected. The 12th District is currently comprised of Rhea, Marion, Franklin, Grundy, Sequatchie and Bledsoe. That too remains the same.
The plan was presented by Ramsey at a news conference attended by judges, including Chief Justice Gary Wade.
Asked whether judges had felt pressured to come up with a response to his ideas, Ramsey said, “I wouldn’t say I scared the devil out of them, but I would say they did become concerned. It was legitimate. I mean, I didn’t know anymore about this when I started than the average citizen did.”
He said “this is the best plan we can get right now, and a good one.”
In two instances, combined districts could result in district attorneys and public offenders running against each other. In other instances, trial county judges could as well. Eight districts are affected in some way.
The last time districts were redrawn was in 1984. Ramsey said some districts were clearly political creations, such as Coffee getting its own district despite a small population and Warren and Van Buren.
Both districts had powerful lawmakers serving in the House or Senate at the time.
Ramsey and judges said the statewide changes should lead to more efficiency while minimizing disruptions in grants in areas such as drug task forces and drug courts.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...