Adding a second Juvenile Court judge will not create an administrative “nightmare,” as your editorial claims. Rotating administrative responsibility among sitting judges is a very common model in courts of all types in Shelby County and throughout Tennessee. It will require the two judges to work together to reach consensus on administrative issues while leaving in place a clear chain of command. This model is by far more common than the jury-rigged system the county now has in Juvenile Court, where the elected judge does not in fact “judge” but instead “administers,” and cases are heard by unelected referees accountable only to him. Rather than sacrificing “efficiency,” having two judges actually hearing cases – i.e., doing the job voters expect judges to do when they elect a judge–can help improve what a recent study by the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts has identified as a system in need of repair.
Even more unfair is the charge that adding the second judge is “political payback.” The vote to change the system was bipartisan, while the vote for the status quo was not. If there was any political motivation at work at all, it was the suspiciously vehement opposition–by those in the current court with a vested interest in the status quo–to a change which would require the sharing of power. Even some of the Republican commissioners voting against the measure made clear that they had no objection in principle to the idea of a second judge, but simply preferred deferral of the decision. The Commercial Appeal would do well to similarly keep an open mind on the merits of the second judge, and to focus on those merits instead of baseless speculation about motivations.