They play an important role in a comprehensive plan that protects the victims from violence. For this reason, it is important that the court system utilize a concise method for dealing with Orders of Protection.
In 2012, the number of Orders of Protection petitions filed rose 80 percent over previous years, according to Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller.
When the numbers began to increase so dramatically, the court needed to reorganize to become more efficient.
General Sessions Judge Dan Swafford, local attorney Phil Jacobs, and Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller met to discuss this need.
Jacobs, along with attorney Cathy Allhouse with Southeast Tennessee Legal Services, began to develop a plan in order to address the needs of the citizens of Bradley County.
It was determined that Bradley County needed a more efficient process to consolidate the orders of protection court day to one day every other week.
Jacobs and Allhouse consulted the local bar for assistance in obtaining a volunteer attorney to assist the petitioners and a volunteer attorney to assist the respondents during the court hearings.
In addition to this process, there would be three judges who rotate every other week so that those judges can continue to preside over other courts that are in session. The three judges who will preside are Judge Mike Sharp, Judge Larry Puckett and Judge Dan Swafford.
The newly implemented process begins with a volunteer attorney meeting with each party respectively assist in facilitating a more orderly and understandable process for their parties.
They are advised so as to be able to make an informed decision as to what they need and what the purpose of the petition is at that time. If both parties agree, the order is processed.
If they are unable to agree, a hearing is held in front of a judge. If at any time the petitioner or respondent chooses, they can represent themselves without the volunteer attorney. However, by working with the volunteer attorney on an agreement, the parties can be more involved in this process as well as the outcome.
Sharp stated, “This is a great help, not only to the citizens of this community involved but to the court as well. The organization in the clerk’s office and ongoing assistance of the volunteer attorneys will aide in running this court more efficiently. This service to the court is a great benefit to our community.”
Along with the expedition of court, this process cannot happen without the circuit court clerks as well as our session court clerks. Their innovation with the paperwork provides expedition of cases.
These clerks are both knowledgeable and efficient, which aides all who are involved in this process. With this new process, three clerks, Emily Goins, Mitzi Hope, and Gayle Qualls, help to facilitate this busy court every other Friday.
Gayla Miller and her staff are an integral part of this team and have assisted in building this process basically from the ground up.
Miller stated, “Because of the clerks, judiciary, bar association, and Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, we are providing the best protective service to our citizens.”
“With the help of many people, we have changed a lengthy, weekly order of protection court to an organized, more efficient order of protection court,” states Jacobs.
To make this process work, there must be three clerks, one judge, two volunteer attorneys, the 911 director, three to four CASA workers, a Family Resource Agency representative, and Bradley County Sheriff’s Office all working together in a partnership every other Friday.
This helps residents navigate through the process as easily as possible.
Swafford stated, “We strive to give the best service we possibly can. We are fortunate to have judges, clerks, and attorneys willing to work in a partnership to achieve this goal. I appreciate the professionalism and dedication of all involved in making this such a successful endeavor.”