Hammond outlines plan to improve Knox Criminal Court Clerk office

Incoming Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond on Monday announced a number of initiatives geared toward "moving the department into the 21 century" and appointed long-time chief of magistrates Richard Major to serve as his top staffer.

Hammond, who defeated two other Republican candidates in last Tuesday's primary and doesn't face opposition in August, will take over an office embattled in controversy on Sept. 2.

In the meantime, Hammond said he will visit similar operations across the state and meet with the county judges in the upcoming weeks in order to make the office "the prototype for the state of Tennessee."

"I wanted change and I promised to move as quickly as possible," he said, adding that "many of the people (in the office) are still using pencil and paper."

Hammond said he'll work with the county mayor's office and the county's information technology department to create a "comprehensive" and interactive website that allows the community to easily access information and pay fines and fees online.

He also wants to cross-train employees and create written procedures for the department.

"We'll be looking at what we need to do to upgrade technology in our offices and the court room," Hammond said. "We'll look at real-time data . . . and look at getting new computer software."

Current Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey, who took over in mid-2008, opted not to seek re-election after a WBIR 10News investigation revealed that a short supply of technology and training inside her office created a series of problems that led to wrongful arrests, cases set aside due to errors and residents temporarily losing their right to vote.

More: Errors leading to wrongful arrests, Knox officials say

More: McCroskey apologizes, fails to address reported problems

McCroskey, whose office is the official record keeper for Criminal Court, General Session Court, and Fourth Circuit Court, denied much of the allegations.

Hammond said he also wants to meet with staffers and will "give them all a chance" to stay onboard.

He said he also will rely on Major's expertise to help him implement his plans.

"He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position," Hammond said. "As we move forward between now and then Richard will be very involved with me."

Major will replace current chief deputy Janice Norman who will retire at the end of August. Hammond declined to say how much he'll earn, although the two have discussed a salary range. Norman currently makes $110,000 annually.

Major was appointed to the magistrate's office in 2006 and took over as supervisor of the general sessions court magistrates in 2009. He earned political science and law degrees from the University of Tennessee.

Major on Monday said that he currently manages five attorneys and a number of clerks. His office, he said, is responsible for generating warrants and paperwork for the general sessions court.

The Knox County Commission will appoint his replacement in the coming months.

Hammond said hiring Major should send "a strong signal that we're going to bring in top notch people."

Hammond said much of the changes he plans shouldn't cost the county much, since he wants to use the offices technology account, which has gone uptapped for at least three years and has roughly $132,000 in it.

Previous: Officials: Tech fund could help Court Clerk's Office

State law permits criminal court clerk offices to assess a $2 technology fee on a "per case basis." The money is then placed into an account separate from the county's general fund, which typically covers day-to-day governmental operations.

In the past, current and former Criminal Court Clerk Office employees have told 10News that the county's IT Department has developed functions that would better streamline operations, but many of McCroskey's employees either don't know how to use it, or aren't instructed to use it.

For example, in General Sessions Court, the clerks there have the ability to immediately update data in the Justice Information Management System, or JIMS, a recordkeeping system that officials use to make decisions on whether a defendant is up-to-date on payments, court appearances, or community service.

That, however, doesn't usually happen. The clerks typically record the information by hand and then enter the data electronically, in many cases, days later.

The lag-time increases the chance for error. It also creates a delay from when a defendant's case progresses, and when the progression is recorded into the system.

Clerks also aren't properly instructed on how to use the system, and a chaotic courtroom can often lead to an overwhelming workload.

Former employees have said that office improvements also will create a better environment for customers.

For example, many court clerk offices across the state can reinstate a suspended driver's licenses by electronically submitting the information to Nashville to be processed.


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