“Our most important job is to go to court and be a voice for crime victims,” said 8th Judicial District Attorney General Jared Effler, who spoke to the South Campbell County Rotary Club on Tuesday.
Effler noted that in his invitation to speak this week, it provides a platform for him to offer somewhat of a “State of the Office” address, an informational program that he shares with each of the five counties in the 8th Judicial District.
“Geographically we are one of the largest judicial districts in the state,” Effler said of a territory that covers Campbell, Claiborne, Union, Scott and Fentress counties. “We have 15 towns or cities, 13 police stations, cover over 2,200 square miles, 130,000 residents, two time zones, three area codes and we are basically dissected by Norris Lake, one of the largest lakes in the TVA system, which is over 3,300 acres with 809 miles of shoreline.
“Our goal as district attorneys, we want to make our district as safe as it is beautiful.”
With 30 full-time employees and 12 full-time assistant district attorneys, in the fiscal year of 2015-2016, Effler said his staff worked over 18,000 cases in all five counties, which does not include criminal court. In 2014-2015, it served more than 3,000 criminal court cases.
He noted that each one of the 12 assistant district attorneys handled over 1,500 cases last year.
Child support division
The 8th Judicial District also has 17 support persons and two assistant district attorneys that work with its child support division, which collected nearly $12 million in child support last year.
“Since I was elected in 2014, I was able to work through the conference in Nashville to get a designated child support investigator,” Effler said of child support investigator Amy Hammac. “So if we have a dad or a mother who is dodging process, or simply can’t be found, we put Amy on that trail, and having Amy there has certainly enhanced our collections, more people serving more cases.”
The child support division won the 2016 Department of Human Services Impact Award, which recognizes community outreach and fundraisers, such as the Inaugural Sporting Clays Tournament it hosted last year. This tournament raised funds for every children’s center in each of the district’s five counties.
“We are the only rural district in Tennessee that has a child advocacy center in each of our five counties,” Effler said. “My assistants can tell you how important that is when they go to court and prosecute perpetrators of child abuse and neglect that we have the support of our children’s centers.”
Effler also noted that the district works alongside five county sheriff’s departments, 13 police departments and multiple state agencies such as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Highway Patrol, as well as occasional work with federal agencies.
“Law enforcement does not work for us. They work with us,” Effler said.
In each of the district’s five counties, it meets for 20 monthly dockets in general sessions court, six monthly dockets in criminal court and nine monthly dockets in juvenile court.
“We are trying more jury trials right now in the 8th district than have ever been tried before,” Effler said. “In my first year in office, we had more DUI jury trials than had been tried the previous four years combined.”
“It’s a priority for us not to only have a lot of jury trials, but to be effective in doing that.”
Since Effler was elected as attorney general in 2014, the district has added criminal division offices in Union and Fentress counties. One office now exists in each of the five counties.
“History has told us without an office in each of our five counties that those persons in the county without an office go underserved,” he said.
Effler said, “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Jared, what’s your three biggest threats to public safety in your judicial district?’ I said, ‘Prescription drug abuse, prescription drug abuse, prescription drug abuse.’”
“The tsunami that you’re always worried about is heroin,” Effler said of the threat of heroin use. “Other districts have seen heroin substituted for prescription drugs. Thankfully we don’t see that very often here.”
“With any drug or alcohol use instances, you’re often going to have theft, domestic violence or child abuse,” Effler said of the effect drug abuse can have in a community.
“One of the things we do is work with local school systems, especially around prom season,” Effler said of a program where his staff stages a fake car collision to make students aware of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Every year, Gov. Bill Haslam hosts a Season to Remember event, which is a memorial service for homicide victims, and Effler’s staff reaches out to victims from the 8th Judicial District.
“We send them a personal letter, let them know we have not forgotten about them and invite them to attend the Season to Remember ceremony with us,” he said.
The Campbell County office can be reached at 423-562-4991, and the child support division contact is 423-663-2532.