Polk’s population has grown by 4.3% over the past decade, while the 10th Judicial District has grown by 6.5%. The greater the population is, the greater the potential workload for the Criminal Court System. The county operates two court houses; one is in Benton and one is in Ducktown. In addition, two grand juries also meet.
The current population of Polk County is 17,544, while the land area is 442 square miles. It is the fourth largest of the counties, in the 10th JD by population. Source Wikipedia (2022).
I am your Criminal Court Judge. The position is part of the circuit court, where felonies and jury trials are conducted. The responsibilities include a rotation of court sessions between Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, and Polk Counties. Cases start with an investigation by law enforcement. Charges are filed in the General Sessions Court. The position is held by Judge Townsend. At the county sessions' level, misdemeanors can be resolved. Felonies (or misdemeanors where the parties demand a jury trial) are bound over to the Grand Jury. Cases that come into Criminal Court are heard by Judge Freiberg and me. Over my term, I have worked hard to: hold offenders accountable, guard the rights of the victims, and offer help and alternatives to those that really want to change.
The reality is that the Judge is the facilitator and the referee. It is a team effort, and results depend on the entire system: law enforcement, district attorney general, public defender, defense attorneys, grand jury, jury members, witnesses, county clerks, probation & parole, and finally, the judiciary.
Filings for all types of cases bound over to Criminal court in the county are down from FY2014-15 by over 12% - this suggests overall crime is on a downward trend in Polk.
Regarding dispositions in criminal court, the county has an increased backlog of cases by over 6%. Polk has the highest backlog in the 10th JD and is worse than the state average.
We may need to re-consider the amount of time that we are currently spending in the county. However, this is not an easy fix, as courtrooms are shared, the number of judges is not going to change, and some do not like to run late at night. Currently 6 man-weeks per year (for two judges) of court are allocated to Polk. So, we get about 9% of the resources, when there are four counties total.
Putting challenges aside, some really good things have come out of Criminal Court, that specifically have to do with me, Sandra Donaghy. These initiatives save thousands of dollars for the county over incarceration expense, get help for offenders, and re-incorporate these individuals into society as productive members.