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  • Bill Raines

Lawrence County Justice Study Continued Coverage - Judge John Plummer III

LAWRENCE COUNTY - (December 9, 2021) - The Lawrence County Commissioners requested a study for the Lawrence County Jail. Lawrence County Zephyr continues it coverage of the findings of the study.

We continue to look at information provided by the Lawrence County Judge. Today, we look at Lawrence County Superior Court I Judge John Plummer III and the issues surrounding the Lawrence County Justice system.

Lawrence County Jail

In the study we find out that Judge Plummer did not push for the jail study. Judge Plummer is a third-generation lawyer and judge. and his grandfather was a lawyer.

The Superior Courts moved to the Courthouse Plaza in the early 2000s and Superior Court II was in the jail. Judge Plummer prefers the jail to be located outside of the downtown in a greenfield site. With his suggestion of Mitchell Road at the old Elliott Stone Property and would like a justice center with all three courts located within it.

The legal system is also looking at a fourth court to be able to handle a large caseload currently in Lawrence County.

Judge Plummer detailed the past and current makeup of the courts within Lawrence County and the issues the logistics of the current legal system.

Lawrence County Superior Court I Judge John Plummer III

The Department of Child Services use to be located in the Courthouse Plaza, on the main level of the building. They moved several years ago, which is now located over a mile away.

In his interview for the study, Judge Plummer believes the public defender's office should be located in the Courthouse Plaza building. The public defender's office is currently located on Mitchell Road which is several miles away from the courts.

Prior to 2010, all public defenders held a contract with the county, and operated part-time out of their private law offices.

The Courthouse Plaza has had some mold issues, and a new HVAC system has been added to the building. Courtrooms are not modernized with updated technology. Judge Plummer would also like to see iPad for jurors to review evidence.

The jury trial in July was broadcasted over YouTube.

Lawrence County Superior Court I now takes 2/3 of all criminal cases and all domestic violence cases. The county is bogged down with meth and domestic violence cases according to Plummer.

There is no Magistrate in Lawrence County, only a juvenile referee. The Juvenile Referee only works with the Circuit Court. That position is paid for by the county.

Small claims cases are held in Lawrence County Superior Court II and all mental health cases are done through Lawrence County Superior Court I. Judge Plummer has worked to avoid putting people struggling with mental health issues in jail. Adding another court or Magistrate has been discussed.

Currently, Judge William Sleva has been appointed a part-time judge to be able to work through the backlog of cases due to COVID as well as a large backlog of cases.

According to Judge Plummer Lawrence County Superior Court I has had the most cases out of any of the surrounding counties.

Judge Plummer feels that one of the causes for the jails to be overcapacity is lawyers are not processing cases fast enough.

During his interview at the time there were a total of 162 inmates which is 90 percent capacity at the jail. Much of the jail population is pre-trial detainees. Most of which are for either extremely serious crimes or violating conditions of their release.

According to Plummer the full jail has taken away resources of the county to arrest. According to Plummer the Lawrence County Probation Department has done a very good job. With Community Corrections using house arrest, intoxillzers, and seems to be working well.

Judge Plummer uses video conferencing for arraignment two days a week which include Tuesdays and Thursdays. The inmates are transported to the back of the Courthouse Plaza where there are two holding cells.

The Circuit Courts busiest days is Thursday, Superior Court I busiest days are typically Wednesday, and Superior Court II busiest days are typically Thursday. The courts usually use Zoom for initial hearings.

The Meth and Opioid use continue to be a major issue for the Lawrence County Justice System with the new prosecutor Sam Arp doing a good job of working with local law enforcement to arrest meth dealers. Most of the meth is believed to be coming from the Mexico-Cartel.

Lawrence County Prosecutor Sam Arp

Inmates are sometimes placed in Transitions Treatment Center by Judges and there is a problem-solving court for Drug offenders.

Lawrence County Zephyr will be featuring more on Judge Bob Clines interview in a future story.

Due to a large amount of information, we put this information in parts to give the readers a way of understanding issues surrounding the possibility of constructing a new jail.

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