Judge likely to resign this week

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Marshall County General Sessions Court Judge Steve Bowden will probably resign by Friday, according to County Attorney Bill Haywood.

A special called meeting of the County Commission is anticipated next month to elect a successor. The exact date depends on which day Bowden submits his resignation.

Haywood's report to commissioners was qualified with some caution because Bowden had not yet resigned. The county attorney, however, is the commissioners' lawyer in a case petitioning Circuit Court Judge Lee Russell to rule that Bowden may continue as a part-time judge.

The 2010 census revealed an increase in county population that puts it through a threshold that requires a full-time sessions judge, complete with a hefty increase in pay. Commissioners hadn't budgeted full-time pay for the judge and cited the recessionary economy as a reason to prefer Bowden continue part-time. Bowden is agreeable to that, court papers show.

Lewisburg-based attorney Bob Binkley represents Bowden in the civil case. Tuesday, Binkley said he wanted to consult with his client before making a statement. A question left at Bowden's office drew no response.

"His intent at this time," Haywood said, "is not to accept the position on a full-time basis.

Close observers of the Marshall County Bar Association have said Bowden's private law practice is flourishing, so a full-time position on the bench paying $126,400 annually would be financially less attractive than private practice if a choice had to be made.

A hearing before Judge Russell was anticipated Friday, but it was postponed to an undetermined date. The state Administrative Office of the Courts, represented by an assistant attorney general from Robert Cooper's office, was expected to argue that Bowden knew, or should have known, that a population change would affect his status when he ran for the judgeship.

"We were pretty much shot down by the AG," Haywood said of the commissioners' argument that money hadn't been budgeted to increase the judge's salary.

"It's up to the county commission to appoint an interim judge to serve" until the end of Bowden's term, Haywood told commissioners during their Monday night meeting.

"We probably need to have a special called meeting," the county attorney continued, turning to County Clerk Daphne Fagan, the official who places legal notices for the commission.

Fagan spoke of deadlines for legal notices in the newspaper of public record so that adequate public notice could be provided. If Bowden resigned in time for a notice in Friday's edition of the Marshall County Tribune, then a special called meeting could be set early next month. If his resignation is received Friday, a notice could appear Wednesday, thereby setting the special session later in October.

"I think it will be here Friday," Haywood said of Bowden's letter, implying the resignation won't be effective this week.

"I think, in the interim, we will not have a sessions court judge," the county attorney said.

Bowden, however, is one of two sessions court judges in Marshall County. Lewisburg City Court Judge Roger Brandon has sessions court authority, meaning he can rule on felony cases.

Haywood is Chapel Hill's city court judge, dealing mostly with traffic offenses. Former Lewisburg Councilwoman Quinn Brandon Stewart, Judge Brandon's daughter, is Petersburg's judge, presiding over cases similar to those Haywood faces in Chapel Hill. Lewisburg-based attorney David McKenzie is Cornersville's judge. McKenzie has been living in Tullahoma.

"I assume this body will want to do it (appoint an interim judge) the way we have done it in the past," County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett said to commissioners.

The most recent vacancy filled that way was filled by former Commissioner Sam Smith who was appointed to the school board. He and others submitted letters to the mayor's office expressing an interest in being appointed to the vacant seat. Those names are then available for nomination at a special meeting, as are those names of other applicants who attend the special meeting when they would announce their interest and ask for nomination.