|Legal Opinion: |
Text of Document: August 31, 1993
Your question is, does a city judge elected in compliance with Barrett v. State, have to be a resident of the city in which he exercises concurrent jurisdiction with the court of general sessions. In my opinion, the answer is yes.
Barrett v. State, 840 S.W.2d 895 (Tenn. 1992) requires judges of municipal courts exercising concurrent jurisdiction to meet the qualifications of Art. VI, Sec. 4 of the Tennessee Constitution. Among those qualifications is that the judges are to be elected by the qualified voters of the "district or circuit to which they are to be assigned..."
Geographically, the "district or circuit" to which a municipal judge exercising concurrent jurisdiction is to be assigned is the city. That conclusion arises from two considerations: the county model for courts of general sessions, and the plain statutory grant of geographical jurisdiction to municipal courts exercising concurrent jurisdiction.
General sessions judges are county officers. [See State ex rel. Winstead v. Moody, 596 S.W.2d 811 (1980)] Tennessee Code Annotated, section 16-15-101 establishes courts of general sessions in every county except two. The courts of general sessions for Sevier and Stewart counties are established by private act. However, under Tennessee Code Annotated, 16-15-101 and the two private acts pertinent to Sevier and Stewart counties, the geographical jurisdiction of the courts of general sessions is coterminous with the county boundaries. The county boundaries represent the "district or circuit" to which the judges of the courts of general sessions are assigned. An extension of that model suggests the municipal judges granted concurrent jurisdiction are municipal officers and that their geographical jurisdiction is the city boundaries.
Municipal judges granted concurrent jurisdiction with courts of general sessions receive that grant through general law in the case of general law charter and home rule charter cities [See Tennessee Code Annotated, section 6-1-101 et seq.; 6-18-101 et seq., and 16-17-101 et seq.], and through private act in the case of private act cities. Nothing in any of those general laws or private acts indicate the jurisdiction of such judges extends beyond the boundaries of their respective cities. In fact, the plain language of the general law charter cities restricts the geographical jurisdiction of municipal judges granted concurrent jurisdiction to the city boundaries.
Your city is chartered under the general law manager-commission charter. That charter contains a provision granting a few cities jurisdiction concurrent with courts of general sessions, and a provision granting the cities in the County jurisdiction concurrent with courts of general sessions, upon approval of a 2/3s vote of the legislative body. However, in both cases, the grant of such jurisdiction limits the geographical jurisdiction to one of the following: "within the limits of such municipality," or to "within the geographic boundaries of such municipalities," or to "within the limits of such city." [See Tennessee Code Annotated, section 6-21-501(b)(1)(C)--(E) and 6-21-501(c).]
A provision of Tennessee Code Annotated, section 6-21-501(c) which provides for the election of municipal judges in the cities of your County (that have adopted subsection (c) by a 2/3s vote of the legislative body) permits them to be "a resident of the county within which the city lies." [See Tennessee Code Annotated, section 6-21-501(c)(1)] However, my opinion is that provision does not meet the requirement of Art. VI, Sec. 4 of the Tennessee Constitution which requires the judge to be elected by the qualified voters of the "district or circuit to which they are to be assigned."
Public Acts 1993, Chapter 115 authorized municipalities to elect municipal judges in response to Barrett. However, nothing in that Act gives a municipal court any jurisdiction either geographically or substantively that it did not already have under its charter.
The net result of the county sessions court jurisdictional model, and the plain limitations of geographical jurisdiction found in the general law manager-commission charter is that the "district or circuit" to which a municipal judge granted jurisdiction concurrent with the courts of general sessions is the city boundary.
Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant