Revised order could calm records storm8:27 am | February 11, 2013
Carter County General Sessions Judge John W. Walton is expected to issue a new order Monday to clarify a previous decree that drew complaints from local attorneys questioning its legality.
County Attorney Keith Bowers said Saturday that a late meeting Friday with Walton may have settled the controversy.
“I sent an opinion letter to Judge Walton Friday morning and then met with him after court,” Bowers said. “I told him what I thought the ramifications would be. Out of fairness to him, I’ll let him explain what the original intentions were on Monday, but the order potentially had problems, and after he had a chance to read my opinion and examined it, I think he agreed.”
Walton released the general order Wednesday, mandating that “the Carter County Sheriff’s Department shall release any paperwork pertaining to Carter County General Sessions Court and Carter County Juvenile Court to Lori Pierce and no other individual.”
Among the specified paperwork falling under the order is warrants, summons, violations of probation, petitions, capiases and attachments.
The day after the release of the order, Johnson City attorneys Donald Spurrell and Casey Sears II filed an injunction against it, claiming a violation of the Tennessee Open Records Act.
In the injunction, Spurrell said an inquiry to the sheriff’s department seeking public documents was denied and that the employee who denied it pointed to the judge’s order.
“We learned of the order, so I called over to the sheriff’s department, interested to see if it was true,” the attorney said Friday afternoon. “The employee I spoke to said, ‘I’m sorry sir, but I’m under an order from the General Sessions Court judge to only turn over that information to him or the law clerk.’”
Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes disputed the attorney’s claim, saying the order does not restrict the public’s access to any open legal documents.
“It’s my understanding that he wants (bench clerk Lori Pierce) to pick up the court’s paperwork directly from the sheriff’s department,” Mathes said Friday. “We still give out information to the public in the same way that we did before, so as long as it’s still a lawful order, I’m going to abide by what the judge said.”