Numerous departments make up local government.
Some of these departments are more well known and more easily understood than others. However, these lesser-known departments still fill important roles.
Such as the clerk and master office that works with Chancery Court.
“Clerk refers to that I am the clerk of Chancery Court. The term master refers to that I am the master of probate,” Clerk and Master Carl Shrewsbury said.
The clerk and master office deals with three major areas: Chancery Court, probate and delinquent taxes.
“Chancery Court is a court of equity. There are only six states left that have Chancery Courts. Most of them have combined them with sessions or general sessions,” Shrewsbury said. “We handle nothing but civil matters.”
Chancery Court is conducted by an elected chancellor serving multiple counties. Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant serves Bradley, McMinn, Polk and Monroe counties. The chancellor is usually in Bradley County two days a week.
Shrewsbury is in charge of managing the chancellor’s docket in Bradley County.
“My primary function as clerk is to file documents, to maintain record of the court and to see that it is secure and that it is proper,” Shrewsbury said. “We are averaging 325 to 350 new cases a year.”
Contract disputes, property issues and divorce are handled by Chancery Court, as well as most civil disputes.
“Except for car wrecks. We don’t handle car wrecks involving injuries,” Shrewsbury said.
Shrewsbury said he keeps the docket organized and current, so everything is ready to go when the chancellor comes in.
“She may have 10 to 50 cases set on any given day,” Shrewsbury said. “A lot of those will be quick.”
Many cases can be finished in the chancellor’s chambers quickly.
“I may run 20 cases through in the first half hour in here before we go to the bench,” Shrewsbury said.
While Shrewsbury sets the schedule well in advance, changes often happen. He said cases get dropped or do not take the amount of time estimated.
“We never know how long she is going to be here. We could be done by lunch, or we could be here till 6 o’clock at night,” Shrewsbury said.
The court also handles many Workers’ Compensation cases.
The probate aspect of the position deals with estates.
Shrewsbury said he handles everything dealing with estates, except signing off on closing an estate.
“Tennessee is not a required probate state. If you have made arraignments before your death to handle your estate, then you would not need to probate,” Shrewsbury said.
Shrewsbury said the only time probate is required is if someone needs authority to manage an estate.
His office covers three types of probate: estates with a will, estates that are not listed in a will and small estate affidavits.
The clerk and master handles a couple hundred such issues a year.
Selling properties delinquent on taxes is the least favorite part of his job, Shrewsbury said.
If taxes on a property have been delinquent in the Trustee’s Office for two years, the matter is turned over to Shrewsbury’s office. Once this happens, if the taxes still are not paid the property is sold at a tax auction. The clerk and master does not have the authority to change the amount of taxes owed.
He said the “most frustrating” cases for his office are ones in which individuals are providing their own legal representation, because many of them don’t know what they need to do.
Shrewsbury said people could represent themselves in any civil case.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is when they say, ‘I am going to represent myself,’ they are in essence saying, ‘I’m my own attorney.’ And that means you do whatever an attorney would do to move your case forward.”
This includes providing and filing the correct documentation.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating, because we can’t help people who we know need help,” Shrewsbury said.
He said just about everyone who comes through his office in relation to a case is under stress.
He said he enjoys the cases in which he can help people.
“One thing we try to do here is treat everyone with respect,” Shrewsbury said.
One highlight of his job is handling adoptions.
“The only fun thing we do are the adoptions,” Shrewsbury said.
Most of the time adoptions are processed in the office, not in the courtroom.
The office averages two to three a month. These include foreign adoptions, stepparents legally adopting their stepchildren, grandparents adopting their grandchildren and any local resident adopting a child.
He said the foreign adoptions have different guidelines and more paperwork than U.S. adoptions. He said every adoption has a lot of paperwork to ensure issues will not come up in the future. The records are then sealed and can only be opened for “certain reasons by certain people.”
Shrewsbury is serving his second appointed term to this office.
“I’ve been in Bradley County government for 27 years, in one capacity or another. I started out in the Assessor’s Office, and went from there to working for the mayor as administrative assistant,” Shrewsbury said.
He was also involved on the formation of the volunteer fire department, and then went to work in the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
When Bryant was looking for someone to fill the clerk and master position, Shrewsbury applied.
“My position is the only nonelected constitutional office in the county,” Shrewsbury said. “I serve the state just like the mayor or the trustee, the only difference is … I am appointed by the chancellor.”
Shrewsbury said he had heard that the position was appointed instead of elected, because “if you sell people’s property, you’ll never get elected.”
The clerk is appointed to a six-year term. Shrewsbury said the chancellor determines the authority of a clerk.