It’s election time again in Tennessee. Tomorrow the polls are open from 7 to 7, and this time, voters are casting ballots in the Republican and Democratic presidential and county primaries. Locally, one of the most hotly contested races is on the Democratic side for Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk.
The General Sessions Court is called general for a reason. It handles both criminal and civil cases, and it’s the lowest court of jurisdiction. So it handles the most cases. The Shelby County General Sessions Court is the largest court in the state.
Mark Allen is the deputy attorney for the county. He says, “The General Sessions Court Clerk is responsible for handling all of the paperwork, the scheduling, the jackets, the dockets, [and] all the collection of money.”
Allen says in order to be a good court clerk, you have to have good management skills – with both people and money.
The former General Sessions Court Clerk, Democrat Otis Jackson, was indicted in August 2011 on felony charges of official misconduct. Jackson is accused of requiring employees in the General Sessions office to raise $50,000 for his 2012 re-election campaign. Jackson says those charges are bogus, and he’s seeking re-election.
“Let me tell you exactly what I said. I said, “An election is coming up and our goal should be to raise $50,000 for the campaign,” Jackson explains. The papers and the legal people in this and the politicians in this has (sic) turned this around and said I demanded. Not one employee or one appointee will say that I requested or required them to do so.”
Jackson’s trial is set for July. He was suspended with pay last August. Then he was removed from the payroll December 31, 2011. The judges of the court appointed Ed Stanton, Jr. as the interim court clerk after Jackson was suspended.
Stanton came out of retirement to take the post. Stanton had worked in the General Sessions and Criminal Courts for 28 years before retiring in 2000.
“By far, we believe we’re the most qualified,” Stanton says, “Because we’ve had the opportunity to have come up through the system, through the entrance all the way up to the top level administrator.
Shortly after Stanton retired, General Sessions got a new computer system. And according to Stanton and Jackson, the conversion didn’t go well. Jackson said under his watch, they found $1.5 million that was unaccounted for, so they started keeping paper records. Stanton said they found about a million that was out of balance when he took over, and now they’re close to fixing it.
“And the auditors have just told us we’ve done more in the past five months than in six years that they have been asking the office to fix and repair that system,” Stanton said.