February 16, 1994
Your question is, does the City have to operate a city court?
The answer is no.
The City operates under the general law mayor-aldermanic charter codified at Tennessee Code Annotated, section 6-1-101 et seq. That charter provides that there "shall" be a city court presided over by a city judge, and that if the office of city judge is not filled by appointment of some other person, the city recorder shall be the city judge. Other provisions in that charter outline how the city judge is appointed and the judge's duties and powers. [See Tennessee Code Annotated, section 6-4-301--302]. It is these provisions that have the city concerned about whether it has to operate a city court.
The phrase "shall be a city court" used in that context does not mean that the city has to operate a city court. Under the charter, because the city has not appointed another person city judge the recorder by default is the city judge. However, nothing in the charter or in general state law requires that the city operate a city court. Section 6-4-301(2) of the charter provides that "The city judge shall have jurisdiction in and over all cases for the violation of, and all cases arising under, the laws and ordinances of the municipality. [The same provision goes on to speak of the city judge's concurrent jurisdiction with courts of general sessions, but that jurisdiction is not at issue here, and cannot be exercised by a non-elected judge in any event.] Section 6-4-302(a) provides that "The city judge may impose fines, costs and forfeitures, and punish by fine for violation of city ordinances.
In my meeting with the board of mayor and aldermen on February 8, I was told that the city has no penal ordinances to enforce, and that all charges brought by the city's police officers are brought under state warrants. That being the case, there are no municipal ordinance violation cases for a city court to hear. For that reason, the city does not have to operate a city court.
I enjoyed my brief visit with you. Let me know if I can help you further in this or any other matter.
Sidney D. Hemsley
Senior Law Consultant