GENERAL SESSIONS AND CRIMINAL COURT JUDGE SURVEY
The 2022 year will be another critical election year for Nashvillians with primary elections held in May, county elections in August, and state/national elections in November. Among the important decisions we will be called to make is the election of judges. Because of the concerns we have about the criminal justice system and mass incarceration, it is critical that we elect judges who best reflect our interests in fairness and equity.

This survey focuses specifically on the election of General Sessions and Criminal Court Judges because of the direct, and significant impact they have on those who are arrested and processed through the criminal court system. Our intent is to capture what you believe should be the personal qualities (compassion, open-mindedness, freedom from bias, etc.), courtroom demeanor (fairness, courtesy, sensitivity), and philosophic beliefs (application of the law, restorative justice) of the judges we elect - particularly regarding bail, probation,
and restorative practices.

Voters often do not pay enough attention to candidates for General Sessions and Criminal Court Judges because we don’t understand what they do, the power they have, or the beliefs they hold.

Duties and Responsibilities
- General Sessions and Criminal Court Judges are elected for eight-year terms during which time they are granted a great deal of independence with minimal oversight.
- General Sessions and Criminal Court Judges oversee everything that happens in their courtroom including ruling on motions made by lawyers for the State and the defendant and allowing witnesses and evidence to be considered in a trial.
- General Sessions and Criminal Court Judges are responsible for setting or reviewing the amount of bail set for a person who has been arrested.
- If a person pleads guilty or is found guilty, General Sessions and Criminal Court judges impose sentences that could include time in jail, the imposition of fines, penalties, fees, and probation (conditions for release).

Cash Bail
Cash bail, or money bail, is the money paid to secure release after an initial arrest. Its purpose, theoretically, is to ensure that a person facing charges will return for later court hearings. While judges have great latitude when making decisions about bail, State law requires that they consider, among other things, a person’s connection with the community and his/her ability to raise money for release. Tragically, far too many people who are arrested are held in the Davidson County Jail until trial because they cannot afford bail – not because they have been found guilty of a crime.

Restorative Justice
Many judges believe in restorative justice which are practices such as victim-offender mediation aimed at rehabilitating offenders and helping heal those who were offended. The purpose of restorative practices is to hold persons charged with offenses accountable for their actions while attempting to repair the harm done and, at the same time, create conditions that will lead them to being productive, law-abiding citizens.

The information gathered from this survey will be used to create questions which can be asked of candidates for General Sessions and Criminal Court judges during public forums and in individual interviews. The questions included in this survey may also be used in questionnaires that are presented to candidates to answer before the 2022 elections. It is our hope that the information and insights gleaned from candidates in
these forums will help you make informed decisions on who you decide to vote for to be a judge.

PLEASE RESPOND BY NOVEMBER 30, 2021.
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When a person is arrested, bail is set by a Magistrate Judge appointed and supervised by General Session Judges. The bail setting practices of all Magistrates and all Judges should be monitored to be sure they comply with Tennessee law governing how bail should be set (e.g., the right to a bail hearing, the right to counsel, and consideration of all factors required by Tennessee law). *
Judges should only set money bail for those charged with the most serious offenses and who pose an obvious threat to public safety. *
General Sessions and Criminal Court Judge campaigns should refuse contributions from the bail bond industry. *
Judges routinely jail people on a charge of probation violation, even when they have not committed a new crime. Judges should not require bail for people who violate probation if they have not been charged with a new serious crime. *
Evidence shows that long terms of probation are ineffective. Terms of probation should last no more than three years if there are no violations and should depend on the severity of the charge. *
Judges should not charge fines, fees or costs to defendants who are indigent and do not have the ability to pay. *
Judges should not charge defendants fines, fees or costs that only benefit or support the operation of the courts. *
Judges should choose non-incarceration sentences such as probation, community service or counseling that keep families together and help people keep their jobs and housing. *
Restorative justice practices are those which attempt to bring reconciliation between offenders, victims, and the community at large. Restorative justice is an important alternative to punishment that Judges should encourage and use in their courts. *
Judges should require District Attorneys turn over all evidence and information in their possession to the defense as early as possible. *
Judges should not give more weight to the testimony of police and law enforcement officers than the testimony of defendants and other witnesses. *
Judges should uphold laws that prohibit unlawful police stops, searches, and interrogations. *
Judges should ensure that everyone charged with a crime who cannot afford to hire an attorney should be able to choose their appointed counsel who the Judge has determined has the time and resources necessary to provide full and zealous representation. *
Data indicates that the number of cases coming into the courts has dropped significantly over the past 10 years. However, the number of Judges and their staffs have not decreased. Metropolitan Government should implement efficiencies in court operations and plan for a reduction in the number of Judges and their staffs when appropriate. The savings should be allocated to programs such as a restorative justice court, mental health support, drug programs, housing the unhoused, and supporting veterans. *
The courts should ensure transparency and accountability to the public by providing open access to detailed data about judicial decisions and case outcomes. *
Please share comments about any other issues or concerns that you consider important regarding judges who preside over criminal cases. *
My organizational affiliation is *
Thank you for completing this survey. Please be alert to announcements about judicial candidate forums in the Spring and plan to vote on May 3, 2022 and August 4, 2022.
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