Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher appeared in front of Circuit Court Judge Mike Meares June 18 to answer questions about 98 cases disposed of in Meares court but whose status was unclear.
The issue regarding the status of the cases came up when Circuit Court Judge Dale Young wrote a letter to the editor in a local newspaper questioning a claim by a Meares’ supporter that Meares had cleared his docket. When it appeared Young and Meares had two different numbers regarding disposed of cases, Meares began questioning how the reporting process by which the circuit court sends the disposition information on cases from Circuit Court.
Judge Meares scheduled a May 29 hearing date but rescheduled it for June 18. In the time between the originally scheduled hearing date and June 18, the Administrative Office of the Courts in Nashville sent information regarding the status of the cases and procedures for reporting.
At the outset, Meares said the hearing was in regards to state reporting of cases and that the court wanted to improve on what’s been done in the past and to make sure the reporting system was open and accurate. At issue were cases disposed of in Meares courtroom from July 1, 2007 to April 1, 2008.
While Hatcher’s attorney, Craig Garrett, said his client was prepared to answer questions, he had reservations on whether Meares had the authority regarding the process since that was the purview of the Administrative Office of the Courts in Nashville.
“It is my client’s position, this court is not given authority to conduct a hearing. The issue of proper reporting of cases is specifically addressed in Rule 11,” he said of the State Supreme Court rules. “It lies with the AOC. There is procedure under Rule 11 if the AOC will provide written notification, or he’s not found in compliance of statute.”
Meares said he and Hatcher were under a joint obligation to ensure state reports are accurate. “That is the only thing the court is here about,” Meares said. “We’re trying to be sure what is done is correct.”
Garrett reiterated his client’s disagreement with the judge. “We don’t feel the court has the authority, but we’re going to comply,” Garrett said. “I will say for the record that he (Hatcher) has never been advised by the AOC that he’s not properly doing his job.”
Under questioning from Garrett, Hatcher confirmed that on June 9 he responded in writing explaining the status of the 98 cases and what might have occurred that caused them to be misreported.
Hatcher said he also had a three-hour meeting with AOC staff in Nashville to learn what happened. Two of the cases had been duplicated, 30 to 40 had been mailed on Jan. 8 and either lost in the mail or sent to the wrong office at the AOC.
“After I met with them, we talked about the issue. We sent corrections in with the January report. We found correction forms went to another person instead. Either they got them and didn’t get them to right person, or they were lost in the mail,” Hatcher said.
When asked if he knew about the dispute regarding the number of cases cleared in Meares court at the time the cases in question were sent to the AOC, Hatcher said he didn’t. Hatcher denied intentionally misreporting any cases.
Hatcher said the state has a specific method for filing reports on cases to the AOC. Hatcher said some cases weren’t filed using current filing methods because they were old. Other cases were related to 202 cases Meares dismissed early in his time on the bench, Hatcher said.
“Shortly after Judge Meares took office, he did an order for cases not heard of late or that the D.A. had not prosecuted. There were in those cases 17 sealed indictments that were never served,” he said.
Hatcher said the AOC sends out quarterly reports that circuit court clerks get 45 days after a quarter is up. For the first quarter of the year, they have until the first week of May to make corrections to case reports filed during the first quarter.
“Both our staff and the AOC staffs have worked diligently to determine if there are mistakes and, if need be, correct mistakes,” Hatcher said.
Garrett asked Hatcher about the procedures Meares was curious about and suggesting they should be changed, if needed. “Only the AOC has authority to change the way we report to them,” Hatcher said.
Garrett asked if Hatcher had had a conversation with anyone to try to make Meares’ caseload look small.
“Absolutely not. We told Judge Meares from Day One we would cooperate with him and help any way we could,” he said.
Hatcher said his office routinely provides statistics to any of the judges who requested them, and he was sure that his staff provided numbers for Judge Young, which he used in his letter to the editor.
“I’m sure we did provide information to the judges, just like when you requested numbers, we do it for you,” he said to Meares.
“What if I were to say to you that, at some point, you told me you were done with statistics, and you weren’t going to assist me in the future in getting statistics, and you had had enough?” the judge said.
“I would not deny it,” Hatcher responded. “I think you need to give the whole conversation instead of bits and pieces, so we can hear the whole truth. I can specify to that if you want,” Hatcher said.
“I don’t think that would be productive,” Meares said.
The judge asked how long it would take to get an exact number of cases in Division II that have court dates or warrants outstanding. Hatcher said his office would furnish the information, and Meares set a date 30 days out, July 18, to see the report.