Photo by Caleb Revill / Reporter
The Rutherford County Republican Party invited citizens and supporters to an event Thursday evening, titled “An Evening with Justice,” to learn more about the local justice system, along with several issues that Rutherford County is facing.
An Evening with Justice was the Rutherford County GOP’s second event in a series of meetings dedicated to keeping the local community informed about public officials and their work.
District Attorney General Jennings Jones, Public Defender Attorney Gerald Melton and Circuit Court Clerk Melissa Harrell each explained what their departments are doing to operate and improve the justice system.
Jones serves as the district attorney general for both Cannon and Rutherford County, and he and his staff prosecute all non-federal criminal cases within Cannon and Rutherford County. His office also oversees child support for Rutherford County.
Jones talked about the increasing growth of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro.
“With growth comes crime,” Jones said. “Because of this, we need to grow our offices.”
In May 2017, Murfreesboro ranked as the 10th fastest-growing city in the United States. There are 150 new cases that Jones and his staff of 22 assistant district attorneys review every month. 95 to 98 percent of those cases are pled by agreement.
After discussing the workload that came alongside the growth of the city and county, Jones talked about the opioid epidemic in Tennessee. He explained that opioid abuse is so bad that some hospitals in the state have run out of Narcan to treat overdoses with.
Jones also discussed rising violence in Murfreesboro.
“This year there have been 47 shootings,” Jones said. “65 percent to 70 percent of these have been in or near apartment complexes close to MTSU.”
To combat this, Jones has discussed increasing police patrols at apartment complexes with Shane McFarland, the mayor of Murfreesboro.
Melton is the public defender for the 16th Judicial District of Tennessee. He serves as a state-provided attorney to represent defendants who cannot or choose not to pay for a lawyer, and he has served as a public defender since 1989.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be a public defender,” Melton said.
As a public defender, Melton said he has taken an oath to protect and defend the laws and the constitution. He spoke a little bit about his duties pertaining to examining police incidents.
Melton referred to Article I, Section 2 of the Tennessee State Constitution which states, “That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”
“When I cross-examine police, I use this,” Melton said.
Melton explained that, by following this guideline, it is his duty to determine the truth in incidents involving potential police misconduct.
Harrell is the circuit court clerk for Rutherford County, and her job involves keeping track of court records, along with day-to-day court planning and procedure.
Harrell said that she was especially excited for the construction of the new 200,000 square-foot Judicial Center scheduled to be opened in 2018.
The audience was able to ask questions of their public officials before the event ended. One of the questions asked was what “big wins” have the public officials had in their careers.
“Any time we have a murder (case) guilty as charged,” Jones said. “I see that as a big win. Justice is the goal.”
Melton told a few stories about having a positive impact on his clients’ lives as a public defender.
“When somebody says, after the fact, ‘Things are looking up for me,’” Melton said.
Harrell spoke about the effort she made in trying to make the judicial process as easy as possible for those partaking.
“Our win is customer service,” Harrell said. “When a citizen leaves our office and is satisfied, (that’s a win).”
When asked about department goals, Melton said that his goal was to utilize cloud technology and computers instead of paper, meaning less tax money would be spent on paper for his office.
Jones described a plan for allowing plea by video chat with a judge. That way, arrested individuals wouldn’t have to be transported from jail to make their plea. Jones said that using video would save money for transportation and security costs.
Among the many attendees to partake in the discussion was Tucker Marcum, 15, a student from Central Magnet High School who started a Turning Point USA club at his school.
“It’s a non-profit, nonpartisan organization,” Marcum said. “It promotes small government, free markets and getting younger people more politically active.”
“(The club has) brought a lot of people who have been interested,” Marcum said. “You haven’t really seen a lot of opportunities for younger people to get involved. I’m definitely glad that I’ve been able to have something where young people can get involved, learn more about issues, debate and have a place where they can learn debate.”
Marcum is an active participant in the Rutherford County GOP. He has worked for different candidates running for office.
“I came here wanting to hear more about law,” Marcum said. “I could see it as a future career path. I’m definitely glad I got to hear more about issues in the county and some stuff you don’t get to hear about everyday.”
Chairman of the MTSU College Republicans April Carroll helped organize the event. She talked about her major takeaways from listening to the guest speakers.
“I realized how bad crime was at the student apartments, but I didn’t realize they were 65 to 70 percent of the shootings here in Murfreesboro,” Carroll said. “It’s good to hear that city leaders are trying to make things work, and it sounds like they’re active doing something about the problem that we see.”
Donna Barrett, chairman of the Rutherford County GOP, said that the event was probably one of the most informative the Rutherford County GOP has held yet.
“We’re no longer a small town,” Barrett said. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that those of us who don’t get to visit the judicial system don’t realize. Tonight, I think the speakers did a great job of showing the impact it has on both those that go through the court system and, more importantly, those that never go through the court system but support it through tax dollars.”
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