On July 12, 2022, I’ll be taking part in a candidate forum hosted by the Morristown Chamber of Commerce and Citizen Tribune. The forum is taking place at Walters State in the Lyceum at 7 p.m. The format at the forum is that the candidates were given a question to answer with the expectation to answer that question within 2-3 minutes. Since I felt like I have more to say than what 2 to 3 minutes will allow. So I recorded a video – over 8 minutes long – with everything that I would have wanted to say at the forum.
I’m including the video here and the text of what I was saying in the video below.
Hi, I’m Todd Frommeyer and I’m running for Hamblen County Circuit Court Clerk.
I’m a 20 year military veteran and a semi retired lawyer.
I’m also a dog owner. Since I’ve tried several times to get this video recorded without dogs barking in the background, I’ve decided just to go ahead and do it regardless of the interruption.
During my 20 years of military service, I was enlisted in the Navy, where I was a Russian linguist. I was stationed in Turkey, Spain and the United States. I also traveled extensively working as a Russian interpreter on Arms Control Inspection and Escort teams.
After my time in the Navy, I used the GI Bill to get my law degree and also get a Master of Laws in International Economic Law.
I spent the rest of my time in the military in the Air Force as a member of the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
As a JAG, I was stationed and deployed all over the world. I worked as the military equivalent of prosecutor, public defender and magistrate. I ran legal offices where I supervised attorneys, paralegals and legal administrative personnel. My last position in the Air Force was in the JAG HQ office where they oversaw administration of military justice across the Air Force. I handled dockets and appeals from nonjudicial punishment to death penalty cases. I would regularly deal with military judges and commanders up to the 4 star level.
Aside from my time working in military justice, I also deployed overseas and worked on Law of War issues and legal issues dealing with interrogations of prisoners held in Iraq.
I think one of the issues in this race is experience. It’s true I don’t have any experience in this particular office. But I have worked in and run legal offices. I am certain that my learning curve to come in and take over in this office will not be steep.
But, it’s important to remember that experience without leadership just means you’ve been there a long time.
I have both experience as a lawyer and a legal office administrator. I also have my military training and leadership skills that will help me make the changes that are necessary in the Hamblen County Circuit Court Clerk’s office. I have a vision for changes that need to be made in how the office is run. In order to get things on the right track, we need a leader in that office.
The answer to the question of why I’m the best person for this job lies in my vision for what I will do and what I won’t do as Circuit Court Clerk.
I’ve set forth a series of pledges to detail that vision.
1 – two term limit. Too many elected officials here in Hamblen County stay in office for too long. No elected official should expect to be able to stay in office until she retires and then hope to hand the job off to her appointed successor. 2 terms. Eight years. That should be it.
Which ties into #2
no nepotism. I will not hire any member of my family into the Circuit Court Clerk’s office. It’s a conflict of interest in my mind. Any hiring I do will be based on qualifications, not who you know.
#3 – Follow federal and state law. No cutting corners. No making excuses. Respect Defendants’ Constitutional rights and follow the law.
#4 – No Favorites, no grudges. The clerk of the court should not be giving preferential treatment to some parties and disadvantaging other parties. Part of having a fair and equal criminal justice system is that everyone should have fair and equal access to the courts. That should start with the Clerk’s office.
#5 – Be kind. Help if you can. If you can’t be kind or help, at least don’t be a jerk. It’s my own personal restatement of the golden rule. I think it’s a good rule to follow for the Clerk’s office as well.
#6 – Do the job I was hired for. No side gigs. This is a full time, very consuming job. There should be no time for side catering businesses or selling picnic tickets. So I pledge not to do any of that. But also, as many of you know, I’m the Chair of the Hamblen County Democrats. I suppose I could stay on in that position and act as the Clerk. I mean, the Chair of the Republicans is the Vice Mayor of Morristown. But this is a job that requires focus and even-handedness. A fair and equal criminal justice system is not a partisan affair. So, that’s why I’m announcing tonight that, if I win this election, I will resign as the Chair of the Hamblen County Democratic Party.
Of my pledges, the most important one is #3. Respect Defendants’ constitutional rights and follow the law.
This seems like it should be an easy pledge to make and keep.
But you’d be surprised.
I’m sure most of you are aware of the issues with our local jail. For those of you who aren’t, let me give you a quick rundown.
That was when Bill Brittain was elected mayor for the first time and Teresa West was first elected Circuit Court Clerk.
Back in 2010, overcrowding in the jail was an issue in Bill Brittain’s first campaign for mayor. Back then, he said that he thought the county shouldn’t build a new jail, which he said would cost $30 million. Instead, according to Mayor Brittain, the right course of action would be expansion and improvement to the existing jail.
After 9 years of Bill Brittain as Mayor of Hamblen County, in 2019, the Jail situation was worse, not better. As you know, Hamblen County got national attention for its overcrowded jail with a New York Times article that quoted Sheriff Jarnigan in describing the jail as a cesspool of a dungeon.
In 2019, at the time of that same article, they cited a price tag of $73 million for a new jail.
And, Of course, now the price tag for the Jail and Justice Center is in excess of $100 million.
Likewise, back in that 2010 campaign, Bill Brittain’s solution for jail overcrowding would be to reduce the number of repeat offenders and do a better job of addressing the root of the problem – drugs.
By October 2019, our 255 bed jail was housing 439 inmates. And how’s our drug problem, do ya think?
But if you’re telling a story about overcrowding in Hamblen County’s Jail, you also have to talk about the local criminal justice system. This starts with Judge Collins, but also includes the current Circuit Court Clerk, Teresa West and members of her office.
For the past decade or so, about half of the detainees in rural county jails in Tennessee have consisted of pretrial defendants who haven’t been convicted of any crimes.
How this happened is that Tennessee law says cash bail is supposed to be the last resort when dealing with defendants. Instead, Hamblen County, along with some other Tennessee counties, uses cash bail in nearly all cases. And, often that bail is set so high that the defendant can’t afford to pay his way out. So, this results in an increase in the number of detainees in the jail, which adds to our overcrowding problem.
In Hamblen County, the situation was so bad, that In February 2020, a number of Hamblen County officials were named as defendants in a class action lawsuit in federal court for these bail practices.
While judges and magistrates are the officials who usually handle bail, the Circuit Court Clerk also sets bail, within limits, when the judge is not around.
This is how Teresa West and some members of her office were also named as defendants in this class action lawsuit.
In November 2020, the federal judge in the case issued a preliminary injunction wherein he found the Hamblen County bail practices to be unconstitutional and ruled that no criminal defendant could be detained without having an individual bail hearing.
Despite this ruling, the defendants appear to be fighting to keep their unconstitutional system of cash bail in place. In a case that has been going on for over 2 years.
So, when I say that my pledge to Respect Defendants’ constitutional rights and follow the law is the most important pledge. You can see why. There is a federal class action lawsuit still pending after 2 years. After the federal judge ruled that the defendants, including Teresa West, had violated defendant’s constitutional rights and not followed the law of Tennessee.
So, the main thing I’m going to do. The main change I want to make in the Clerk’s office is to fix this broken travesty of a cash bail system. Unfortunately, the system is not entirely within the control of the Circuit Court Clerk. But the Clerk plays a part. And, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected into that position, I will do everything in my power to fix this system.
Thank you for listening.
If you want to learn more about me or my positions, head on over to Todd Frommeyer dot com.
Early voting starts on July 15 and election day is August 4th.
I would appreciate your support and your vote.