While these courts generally operate as individual venues of justice, sometimes a case will turn from a Sessions Court issue into a Criminal Court matter.
When this happens the case is said to be bound over.
“Every warrant starts in general Sessions Criminal,” said Gayla Miller, Circuit and Criminal Court clerk.
Whether an offense is tried in Sessions Court or bound over to the Criminal Court is the decision of the grand jury.
Sometimes evidence skips Sessions Court and comes to the grand jury to decide whether there is enough evidence to send it to Criminal Court. Sometimes the grand jury decides there is not enough evidence for a charge to go to trial.
Not every case in General Sessions criminal goes to Criminal Court. Misdemeanor offenses are tried in Sessions Court.
One Bradley County office is tasked with making sure all of Bradley County’s courts run efficiently.
This is the Circuit and Criminal Clerk’s Office.
Miller said there are nine courts that her office serves. These include General Sessions Civil, Circuit, Environmental, Order of Protection Court, two child support courts, Criminal Court, Juvenile Court and Criminal General Sessions court.
“There is not one document that comes through the court system that does not come through my office,” Miller said.
Miller said it is a complex process requiring caution and care. She said one missed step could jeopardize a case.
There are 31 employees in three different locations associated with this office.
Miller said it takes constant communication with her team to keep everything running smoothly.
Six judges and two magistrates serve the courts. A magistrate can review cases and make decisions, but a judge has to make the final decision.
Local attorneys have also been approved as “friends of the court” to work in Order of Protection Court.
Good working relationships between the office and the District Attorney’s office keeps the courts running smoothly.
Juvenile Court is also split into criminal and civil courts. General Sessions civil court handles the juvenile issues as well. Juvenile criminal matters are handled at Bradley County Juvenile Court.
Circuit Court serves as an appellate court for General Sessions Civil Court.
“Circuit Court is the dominant court for malpractice. In general Sessions Court you can only sue up to $25,000,” Miller said.
Circuit Court also handles infringements of personal rights, damages and personal injury cases.
Juvenile Civil Court handles custody issues; neglect and dependent; and order of protection issues.
“The law is — it’s complicated — you have one law that tells you how to proceed and then their will be an A and B through Z. And you are totally confused on ‘Well can we, or can we not?” Miller said.
Between 2012 and 2013, Miller’s office has brought in more than $4 million in revenue from court costs and litigation taxes. These are placed in the Bradley County General fund.
In 2012, there were 342 order of protections, 450 custody related cases, 4,600 General Sessions civil court warrants and cases as well as 952 open Circuit Court cases.
In that same year, there were 611 open General Criminal Court cases
In General Sessions Criminal Court 6,773 warrants were processed.
When traffic violations processed through this court are added, the workload exceeded 11,000 items.
There were 4,000 cases in the juvenile Criminal Court.
Miller said all the documentation goes through office before a judge ever sees it.
“When you file as many cases as we do and take in as much money as we do, it is a constant seven days a week 365 days, 24 hours,” Miller said.
Implementing a payment plan for fees or fines decided by the courts has been an asset to the clerk’s office.
Miller said this option brought an increase in funding and a way for people, such as those with a suspended license for outstanding fines, to get their fines paid and their life back on track.
The clerk’s office also determines when someone is selected for jury duty. Jurors are selected at random from a list of those with a valid driver’s license, Miller said.