The term circuit court is usually applied to trial courts of general jurisdiction. Its core concept requires judges to travel to different locales to ensure wide visibility and understanding of cases in a region. 

However, with the current lockdown procedure right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, physically meeting in court poses a challenge. Joining Abhijit Verekar and co-host Mike Caffrey on today’s show is Tom Hatcher, a Circuit Court Clerk for Blount County, Tennessee. Tom has been in the judicial system for 26 years. 

Today, he talks about how Blount County blazed the trail for many other courts in implementing virtual court systems or virtual arraignment systems. He also discusses how other county courts can get creative and partner with computer vendors so they can do what they need to do within their reach.

AV: Tom, I’m going to let you tell us your story and how you came to be in the position that you are in now.

TH: Judge David Duggan, who is our Circuit Judge and Presiding Judge, notified us to come to a meeting upstairs that he had the information and an order from the Chief Justice of Supreme Court at Tennessee. 

We met around 3 p.m. on a Friday. The order said, “We are suspending all court proceedings in person and you’ve got to come up with a plan.” 

How are you going to have court and not violate anybody’s rights and to reduce the population in the jails? After our meeting, we met for an hour and that was with all the judges, the clerks, and representatives from the Sheriff’s Office. At the end of the meeting, my direction as the clerk of the criminal courts was to come up with a plan so that we could have court on Monday morning by video.

It was the judge’s order. At that point I’m like, “What am I supposed to do here? What am I going to do?” My first take was I’ve got to get a hold of Mike Caffrey at IT and ask for his help. I got home and I thought about this for a little while. The first thing that I thought of was several years ago, we had put in a video arraignment system and had it set up on two separate floors. On the same two floors, we had a court and one room down in the jail to where we could bring prisoners and do the Affidavit of Indigency to be able to see whether or not a person is qualified for a court-appointed attorney.

AV: Were you one of the first courtrooms or judicial systems in the state or the country to do that? 

TH: I know we were the first in the state at that time to have any type of video arraignment equipment.

MC: What’s interesting though is we found that it was the State of New York who approved video arraignment but hadn’t done anything about it.

TH: There are several different states out there that had approved this but hadn’t moved forward at all, with any type of video arraignment or virtual court systems and stuff.

MC: When Tom calls, my thinking is this is easy because we implemented an audiovisual system in our courtrooms. I didn’t think it was easy but I didn’t think that it’s going to be as hard as it turned out to be. 

TH: Actually, what he said was, “It’s 9 p.m. at night. You don’t ever call me at home about work. What’s going on?”

MC: Tom only called me one other time at night, both times, and it was a good thing I picked up the phone. When we first started scoping it out because I knew we had that video arraignment system down there, but I wasn’t sure how we were going to incorporate that into the existing new system we already had in all of our courtrooms. My next thought was we need to get somebody more familiar with that. That’s when I called Jenny Montgomery, who is intimately aware of what we had put in. Jenny’s on our team and that’s when we all three got together and started brainstorming what this could be. We took it down to its simplest form. Our thinking was some internet and some Chromebooks and we’re off to the races.

TH: The good thing for us, after we had that meeting with the judges, I asked the judge, “I’m going to know we’re going to have some equipment. Can you make an order allowing me to make emergency purchases this weekend? That’s the only way that I will be able to be ready. I don’t think IT’s got the stuff that we’re going to have to have on hand.” 

He signed an order allowing me to make emergency purchases during COVID-19 when our Purchasing Department was closed. At that point, he gave me up to $2,500 that I could expand during the weekend. After talking to Mike and him giving me some things that he thought we would need to get us up and running, I went shopping at Walmart. That’s where I went and said, “This is what I need. Can you help me?”

AV: That $2,500 was supposed to last you for how many courtrooms, Tom? 

TH: At that point, we were only thinking about one to start with, in Circuit. Later I got the phone call that said we need to set up a Circuit and a Sessions Courtroom.

MC: I got another call for juvenile court. I said, “Tom is already working on this. If there’s any way we can get a chance to work out the wrinkles with Tom’s general sessions and circuit, we could get this figured out, and then we’ll come back to you on the juvenile side. Hopefully, we’ll have a better solution out of the gate.” 

TH: Juvenile court is so much different than adult court is. Getting things taken care of over there as far as an adult court helped Mike to be able to set the system up and how we had to do it. There are many different players when you have a juvenile court that’s involved. You’ve got kids that are involved and you’ve got the court-appointed lawyers for each kid. You’ve got the parent’s kids and you’ve got DCS involved. There are 10 or 12 different components there compared to adult court where you’ve got three components. You’ve got the prosecutor, the defense attorney who’s representing the defendant, and you’ve got the clerk.

MC: We caught a little bit of a break. The juvenile didn’t have court, so it gave us some time to work through this with Tom. What’s interesting is there were a few things that happened many years ago that paved the way for us to do this. One of them was the collection fee that you lobbied for.

AV: Let’s go back in time, Tom. You’ve been in the judicial system for 30-plus years?

TH: I’m with the Sheriff’s Department right at 10, then Clerk for 26.

AV: You’re somewhat of a trailblazer because we work with and talk to a lot of people in your position that don’t do as much – even though they have bigger resources. How do you find yourself in a spot that you become a clerk? What changes have you put in technology or otherwise throughout the years?

TH: When I took office 26 years ago, the Clerk’s Office was still doing everything by hand. 

We had these great big ledger books that weighed 30 pounds apiece. When somebody filed something, you’d have to pull out that big book and hand write all the information in there. The same thing in a criminal case, if somebody was charged with a crime and then a warrant was written, we’d have to write all this information in the book. In 1996 when I first started going to the Clerks Conferences, because for the first two years, I was trying to get my feet on the ground, so that I could walk without falling. 

When I started going to the Clerks Association and sitting around in the hospitality room, that’s where you learn a lot of your stuff because you can talk one-on-one to other clerks and say, “How are you doing this?” Get their answer. You ask another one, “How are you all doing this in your jurisdiction and how are you doing this?” You start getting ideas and things. 

One of the people that I went to was Davidson County’s Clerk that I got elected the same time I did in 1994 for the first time. His dad had been a clerk in Davidson County for many years and he had worked in that office. I went to Ricky and I said, “What are some things that you all are doing?” Davidson County was a couple of steps ahead of everybody in the state at that time. He started talking to me about some things and some visions he had as far as upgrading technology-wise in that. That’s when I came back and started thinking, what can I do to make it more simplified in this office and serve my citizens better.

I contacted a local computer company out of Sullivan County back then called Bridge. I talked to their representative and said, “I want to do something that we computerize the Clerk’s Office.” I want to think in my second term after I got elected again in 1998 that we sat down with them and put together a plan of what we needed. They had the guts of the system, but we put the things in the system that we needed and some of the things that were different from what they did. 

At that point is when this started as far as us starting to upgrade at our Clerk’s Office here. Since then, technology, as far as the things that we’ve got with the video arraignments, we’ve got kiosks out there now that you can make payments on at different locations. We’ve got the new system we went in years ago. I believe it is a state computer system that I was very involved in and served on the committee in that back then. 

One of the other things that has helped me is I served as our Legislative Chair for the State Court Clerks Association for eighteen years. I spent a lot of time in Nashville talking to legislators and, not necessarily clerks, but other private company executives and questioned them how they did things and stuff. I’m straightforward and aggressive. You and Mike both have seen that since you’ve been here with us and work with us.

AV: Forward-thinking, is that what you said?

TH: I’m not afraid to take chances and try things. A lot of people over the years that I’ve seen, the clerks have been in office for a while and stuff, I don’t mean that in a bad way, but they’re complacent and their county is fine with the way they’re doing things and that. 

When I took office in ‘94, we had logged 86,000 people in Blount County. We’ve got over 140,000 now in Blount County. You can see how much we’ve grown since I took office. I want to try to keep up. At the time when I leave office, I want the clerk’s office to be tenfold better than any other clerk’s office in the State of Tennessee. Where the next person comes in, they’ll have to work as hard as I have to get us to where we’re at.

MC: Setting up a fund where you can collect money for these future purchases.

TH: What we did is ask the legislature to put a $4 fee on every case that’s filed through the court system and use that for an IT or reserve fund. During drafting the bill, we wanted to make sure that as clerks, we had control of that money and not have to go back into the General County and County Commission had control. Even though I have to go through the purchasing part of it and in the end, have to prove what I spend it for, I’m the one that has the authority that says I want to spend it for this and this. 

By having that money in place, we’re very fortunate here in Blount County, we’ve got more than $300,000 in reserve at the Clerk’s Office. It has nothing to do with General County or any other money just for IT stuff. We have tapped into it two or three times now to buy equipment to get us going to be able to do court by video. The great thing about Blount County is that we all work together as a team. We might not agree on everything, but in the end, we know what our goal is and we get there. 

That’s the thing with IT here. Mike, you can’t get a hold of Jenny. They work long hours through the weekend to make sure that we were ready to go. I’m not saying everything was perfect and we didn’t have any glitches. We worked through it. I don’t know of any other counties that could have done that. We’re ready to go and continue to have every court.

AV: You’ve been preparing for a situation like this for 25 years. If you hadn’t done that, that Monday morning would not have happened.

MC: That in my mind was also having implemented video arraignment, it’s not that you have that there. It’s just that the judges and their Clerk Administrators are aware and are using that technology. When it comes time to try to figure out what we can put together for you in those courtrooms, I don’t have to wonder if the judge is going to allow us to do that in a courtroom. They’ve already been exposed to the technology. To me, that was huge. 

You don’t give enough credit, but as you know there are a lot of departments in government for the reasons you already mentioned are not going to be willing to look at something like, “I have a guy in another room, we’re going to set up a video conference with him and he’s going to be there from 10-10:20 a.m.” You need to be there from 10-10:20 a.m. on this side. That’s the moon to some of these guys.

TH: When you think about Tennessee, you’ve got to work. The majority of Tennessee is rural. When it’s broken down county by county, when you get past the top twelve populated urban and rural counties, they don’t have enough cases and that to build the fund that we did to be able to do these things too. 

What we did is great and it’s helped a lot of us, but the totality of the whole thing, it did not help everybody as much as it did what we thought it would in the beginning. For instance, let’s say Clay County down in West Tennessee, a very small county, they only have one clerk. That’s the only employee that they have, that’s how small they are. They do 300 cases a year. You take $4 times 300, you see where they’re at compared to where we have 30,000 cases a year. It’s hindered a lot of people to be able to even have the forethought to try to do anything.

MC: At the same time though, what else is interesting was you didn’t go into this saying, “As much money as you guys want to spend, let’s make it happen.” You went into it and you need to do all of this stuff. The list kept growing as the judges became aware. You need to be able to do all of this stuff for $2,500. The good news for those small counties like Clay County is that these solutions that we’re implementing aren’t that expensive. They aren’t that complex. They’re available. They’re kind of no-brainers. There are elements that need to be ironed out. 

At the same time though, what I thought was best about your volunteering to do a show like this is there are those people you mentioned that don’t have maybe an IT spend this big or IT guys this big. Maybe they’re dependent on computer resellers out there for any solutions they have. There are the things they need to be doing right now within their reach. They don’t know it perhaps.

TH: A majority of those smaller counties and stuff of what you said, they don’t have any IT people and their own staff, nobody. They depend on the different vendors out there. They call and say, “This is what I want to do.” The vendor says, “Let me see what I can come up with.” They come back and try to sell them a product and they go put it in and they’re done. They don’t have the availability that I have to phone up and call Mike Caffrey at 9 p.m. at night. When a situation happens or call AV at 9:00 at night and say, “I’ve got this issue.” 

What I think that we have to do as a Clerks Association and through the judicial system is that since this has happened, we’ve got to go back to the drawing board as a Clerks Association. We’ve got to come up with some type of playbook for everybody and not make it a playbook that is one-size-fits-all. We’ve got to take and get these smaller counties to look and say, “You let us know what your needs are and what you need to get there. Let us, as the association, help you get to that point.”

MC: Other things though as this continues because it didn’t stop with you introducing video arraignment. There have been other improvements that you’ve made process-wise to make your area over there more efficient.

You approached me and you wanted to do eFiling. eFiling on the surface when you mentioned that I was thinking, “Here we go.” Two-hundred thousand, $3000,00, $500,000 later, we’re going to have something that we’ll both grow to hate before we grow to love it. What’s interesting about it is when you look at some of the solutions you’ve brought to the table, that one in particular, the investment is time. If you’re creative, if you’ve got the time, there are a couple of vendors out there that will partner with a county, and the cost to the county is zero. 

Look at it from a different perspective. I’m a reseller approaching a small county. I’m only approaching them because they’re about to spend money that’s going to be interesting to me as the reseller. What’s different about our relationship is we can talk about free stuff and we can implement the free stuff. I’m not worried about how I’m going to feed my kid tonight. 

That’s what I like about our relationship as we move forward. You were mentioning eFiling and we’re still progressing down that path. You mentioned eSignature around the same time. Who would have known that all of this would have happened that would have brought that to the forefront? That’s what your experience and your attitude towards your job have brought to the table. What I like about working with you is we can get creative, come at me with requirements, and let’s see what we can work out together for an implementation. We are in great shape relative to some of our other brother and sister counties.

TH: There are two things that have come out of this good or bad situation that we’re in. A part of it is bad where people have gotten sick and people have died and those things. The good part about it is that in this county, we have implemented virtual courts, our judges are doing it and they’re doing it with no audience. 

We don’t have a full courtroom of people sitting in there, just people in there people-watching court. We’re in court now and we’re getting business done a whole lot quicker because we only have the prosecutors, the defendants, and we’re talking to the defendants down in the jail. We’re able to process and what it has done has stirred some interest in some of our judges to go forward and continue looking at this and keep some of the processes in place that we have started. Through this process that we’ve had, when this thing is over and we have an opportunity to sit down and look back at what we’ve done, it gives me and you guys an opportunity to say, “Now that we’ve got our foot in the door, what else can we do?”

I’ve got five courtrooms for adult (court) and I’ve got two for juvenile (court). Let’s put a playbook together for each one of them. What we’ve got to do and try to get this implemented for every courtroom that we’ve got is set up. We’ve got the jail set up, we don’t have to move a prisoner. 

The other thing that talking about e-filing before our legislature adjourns for these classes, we were able to get a bill that the Clerk Association had an on eFiling. At that time, when you and I would discuss some things, it was only for civil cases. We lobbied the legislature and got an e-filing pass for all filings now. That’s a huge step for us to be able to move forward a little bit quicker because now we can look at all aspects of eFiling instead of just piecemealing it. We’re piecemealing it for the civil court here and then we’ve got to figure out how we are going to do it for the criminal court here. We can put all those components together in one basket and come out with a great product.

MC: When we were looking at this solution, in my mind anyway, I was thinking this is something we’re going to do for the judges, their courtrooms for their admins also. When you brought in or you asked us to set it up for the Public Defender’s Office, in my mind, that’s when this thing opens up. 

TH: Not just for the Public Defender’s Office, it was for any attorney that had a case with a person that was incarcerated.

MC: That’s my point. When you brought it up, that’s when the light bulb goes off “We’re not talking about attorneys that are here in a building. You can have an attorney anywhere visiting with their client. Granted you have to schedule it, but how much more efficient is this going to be for all concerned?” Bring in those rural counties that you mentioned earlier that they don’t have court every day, they have a traveling judge.

TH: A lot of districts in the State of Tennessee, you have four or five counties that make up that district. In Blount County, we’re the fifth judicial district, the only county in our district. We have permanent judges and the other counties that have four or five, you have judges that have court and say County A on Monday and Tuesday and County B on Wednesday and Thursday. They go to County C on Friday, they rotate and you’ve got your civil judges and your criminal judges. 

We’re fortunate we have two circuit judges and we do criminal court. We have a trial set up every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We could have and we have had in the past a criminal trial going on and also a civil trial at the same time. The way they do it is we send out jury summons for a two-week period. They send out jury summons and people serve on a jury for six months at a time. You’re on call for six months in this county. Our people are on call for two weeks because they have to set it up that way because the judge is traveling, they don’t have court so often.

AV: We’ve been forced into this situation where it’s positive because now you can set up a judge with to-go technology. Tom, should we be going back to the way things were before or is there a reason to? How do you see this going forward? 

TH: I don’t see how to go back to everything. There’ll be some things that we’ll have to go back to until we get some other things implemented. 

I’m very excited about the conversations that we had in the meeting with one of my judges. The information that I was given about some of the other judges that they want to look at doing some of these things now by video instead of in-person. We can handle a lot of stuff by video. 

For instance, if you have a divorce that’s an agreed divorce, we can do all of those agreed divorces by video instead of people having to come here to the courthouse or to the justice center and that many more people being in here. We can lessen the load in that way. 

The other things that we didn’t mention in the last episode that arose since then taking payments from people that owe court costs, we’ve got a place set up at the justice center where they have to step inside the door. I’m talking to my county clerk and she has a drive-through that they do a couple of days a week off-site at the library. I’ve got to talk to her about us partnering together, opening that thing up the whole week, putting one of my people there, and one of her people there, a couple of days a week, mine three and us keeping it open. But us cross-training our people, my employee learns how to do her stuff, her employees how to do my stuff, and starts taking payments at that drive-through so we can do all traffic citations that we have. 

That’s cumbersome for us at the justice center because of the amount of people that come through there when we’re trying to do regular business for us having court. It clogs up my windows for my general sessions clerks and they’re having to wait on these people to take payment for citation when we’ve got people standing in line waiting to file stuff, new claims, and those kinds of things. 

We’re thinking about doing that offsite. None of that would have come about if we had not had this crisis and had to come up with some things. I sat down with the general manager of my office and I said, “We’ve got to look at everything that we’ve done and we’ve got to prepare for the future. As the clerk’s office, we need a playbook to show what we did and the reasons we did it. What we have to do is think, “What can we do in the future to be prepared again? Not only that, how can we implement things that we’ve done now and not go back the way that we were doing things to the norm and make it better? How can we make it better for the attorneys to file things?” 

It got us out of this little small box that we’re in and now we’re out here. It’s got us in a bigger box so that we could move around again, let our brains work and start thinking forward to 10 years down the road.

AV: What are some of your peers doing?

TH: Some of them are doing the video – larger counties have that capability to do that. Some of the smaller counties are not doing anything. The judge is coming in one day and saying, I’m hearing all these cases of people that’ve been arrested, re-arraignment to where you’ve got some that’s having some court but only if it’s an emergency and have to. 

They’re not doing anything to lessen the population in their jails. We worked every day and the Sheriff’s Office has done a great job at keeping us informed of the people that’ve been arrested or the people that get close to where their time served. We went ahead and maybe had a blocked survey for two weeks on monitor stuff, misdemeanors things to go ahead, and give them time served. Through the lack of furlough, we’ve let them out but you’ve got to be back in court. The majority across the state are not doing a whole lot. When this thing’s over with and the Chief Justice says, “Let’s go back to work.” There are going to be a lot of officers. The first month or two when we come back, we’re going to be bombarded because we’ve had to reset cases so many times.

AV: No trials until June?

TH: We have no jury trials until July. We’ve got a new order. It says, “Suspension of jury trial shall remain in effect through July the 3rd.”

AV: I want to move on from courtroom technologies. I know you have a lot of thoughts about technology and innovation in general. Tom, what is your definition of innovation and how it applies to everyday citizens, be it those in the judicial system or everyday citizens of the county? What does innovation mean beyond giving newer computers to your staff? 

TH: The biggest thing is that myself, as a clerk in any elected official in any office and other officers more so than mine, because most of the time in my office, we’re dealing mostly with lawyers, collection agencies, landlords, and then people that were arrested. 

Any elected official has to have the vision to improve their offices in any way possible that they can to serve that citizen out there and give them the best product, the biggest bang for their buck that we can. Knock on wood, I’m thankful that I’m in Blount County and elected officials work together. I think you see that from this county and these elected officials. We’re all the time trying to improve what we’re doing to make it more cost-effective and better to serve them. As an elected official, that’s my job and my responsibility is to serve the people in this county in the best capacity I can. If I sit back on my laurels and don’t do anything, I’m not doing what I was elected to do.

AV: You’ve always had a grand for how things should work. You also mentioned that most counties don’t have an IT department or people they can lean on to make those visions happen. What are your recommendations or thoughts for people that are your peers in other counties that don’t have IT or people they can lean on that won’t try to sell them things that don’t work?

TH: One of the things that we’ve done as an association and working with the Administrative Office of the Courts, this computer system that was developed and is out there, at this point in time that all 95 counties have the ability to have this in their offices. 

That’s one thing that has helped. As an association, since this has happened, we got to partner with the Administrative Offices Courts, the Trial Lawyers, and the Bar Associations. We’ve got to come up with a grand scheme for the whole state in the judiciary system, whether it is Clay or Davidson County. Your biggest county or your smallest county, and say, “We’ve got to put this stuff together, whatever it may be once we get through this.” We’ve got to go to the legislature, say, “You’ve got to help us make this judicial system better for our citizens and these are the things and the tools that we need. Help us.” 

That’s one of the biggest things that we can do. In a smaller county, the money’s not there. We’ve got to fix it where the smaller counties and stuff that doesn’t have the population or the money, we’ve got to help them. The rest of us have got to come together and help them to be able to help move them forward.

MC: You need to make your playbook available. That would be helpful to a lot of them. I’m sure there are things that they need to do that you will never have to do. At the same time, for them to see what you have done would get those juices flowing so they can get creative on their own. 

AV: I think you need to write a book, Tom. I’m half-joking, but you have enough experience and a lot of stories to tell.

TH: I don’t want to say this, but I have to say this. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to get some of those other clerks, Mike talked about getting our juices flowing, you’ve got to convince them. We’ve got to come up with a scheme or something to be able to convince them to get excited about doing it. Until you get that elected official or that clerk in that county excited about doing it.

AV: Tell me how you stay excited after all these years. What keeps you going?

TH: What keeps me going is the way I was raised. My dad taught me many years ago. He owned his own business before he passed away for 64 years. When you work for yourself, you see different things you have to do to keep moving your business forward and growing. 

As times change, he has instilled in me over the years, he keeps me excited about moving forward with my office and trying to make it the best. I don’t want to be complacent. I don’t want to be that person. Like my dad when I worked for him, if I’d get complacent about stuff and I’m not doing the best I could do, he’d get my attention. I think about those things. 

I may have told you all the story, but when I first got elected in ’94, we were in the headquarters and how everybody wants to pat you on the back, thank you, and all that stuff. We were in this room and I kept noticing my dad in the background moving forward, backward, and waiting as the crowd moved down. When he finally got up to me, I thought he would shake my hand, grab me, or hug me. He didn’t. The first thing my dad did was he took his big index finger and stuck it to my nose and he said, “Son, don’t you ever forget where you come from.” 

I hang it in my office when I walk through that door every morning. What I see is, “Don’t forget where you come from.” One of the things that motivates me is I don’t want to be complacent because I know what happened to me as a kid and growing up. When I got complacent when my dad gave me something to do and all I did was go out there and get by and then he would bring it to my attention. You don’t do things to get by. You do things to make it better. If I go out there and I drove two nails, I should have driven four nails according to my dad. That’s made myself stay excited in things thinking about how he motivated me growing up in that business. 

I’m a public servant. I serve the people. If I’m not trying to make things better or if I’m not trying to enhance my office, then I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing as public service.

AV: Tom, you go beyond that to you. You’ve got your foundation, you do a lot with Alzheimer’s, you have your golf tournament that brings in a lot of money. Tell us a little bit about your motivations for going beyond your office and doing things for the public.

TH: When I got elected, I had a golf tournament every year to try and raise money to put in a campaign fund and make an award chest. When my dad got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we spent a little over five years watching him and what he went through. My good friend, Dave Bennett, and I played golf together each Sunday afternoon with a group of people. Dave and I were riding together and it was getting close to the time for us to start looking at putting together a golf tournament for my reelection campaign. 

I told Dave, “Dave, I want to do something different instead of having a golf tournament for my campaign.” Dave’s first word was, “What else could we do? What else do you want to do? We’ve done this. It’s simple.” 

I said, “No, Dave. I want to do something in memory of my dad. I want to have a golf tournament or I’m going to have raised money to help with the awareness of Alzheimer’s.” 

That was on the front nine and both of us got to talking a little bit and thinking. Dave said, “Why don’t we start a fundraiser and we have a golf tournament to raise money for all Alzheimer’s awareness?”

TH: Dave and I talked about that. My son grew up with what was called the Boy’s Club. I served on the board for several years with it. Dave and I got to talk and I said, “I want to do something more than for Alzheimer’s.” Dave said, “Why don’t we incorporate the Boys and Girls Club in that?” We started out, that’ll be our seventh year of having the tournament. The first year that we started out, we raised about $20,000. We cleared about $16,000. We had fifteen teams to play. In our sixth year, this thing has grown phenomenally, not by my doing it or anybody else’s. There’s no doubt in my mind that the good Lord is in this with us and leading us because we went from clearing $16,000 in the first year. Five years later, we raised over $100,000 and cleared about $88,000.

AV: It’s a lot of fun. I’ve almost died in your tournament.

TH: Everybody asks me, “Why do you have your golf tournament on the 3rd week of July? That’s the hottest time in the world.” I said, “We started out in July because that’s when I had my campaign golf tournament. We just decided to do that.” Once we started, we got to looking at it the first year, the second year and a third year, we got several people on a committee. We started looking at the calendars of when people were having golf tournaments. Nobody had a golf tournament in July. It’s too hot. Our success from the first year to the third year, we went from $20,000 to $50,000. We said, “Why do you want to change something if it’s doing good?” That’s the reason that we’ve had it in July and we’ve been able to not only donate to Alzheimer’s Tennessee. I want to make sure that people understand Alzheimer’s Tennessee is local in the State of Tennessee. The main offices and Knoxville and all the money raised through Alzheimer’s Tennessee stays in the State of Tennessee. Not like the other Alzheimer’s organization where the money goes to a corporate fund in Chicago and they decide where the money spent. We’ve been able to donate to over sixteen different charities in Blount County.

MC: You also have the Sock Out Day, Alzheimer’s thing.

TH: Through the Clerks Association with the help of Alzheimer’s Tennessee in 2015, on the anniversary of my dad passing away, I had gone to the Clerks Association and asked them to adopt Alzheimer’s Tennessee as our cause for the Clerks Association. 

On my dad’s anniversary of passing away, we kicked off what we called a Purple Out Day for the State Court Clerks Association. Through that, we got “purple out day” and then got with Boyce Smith who was the Manager of Alcoa Walmart here and talked to him. I got Walmart interested and we started what we call Race Across the State. We start in Memphis and go to Johnson City and we’ve got Alcoa. We Walmart’s across the state, we got ten stops that we stop at. The Clerks Association is involved in that along with Walmart to raise money for Alzheimer’s Tennessee. 

In 2015, we talked about having a Purple Gala at our County Officials Association Conference. We weren’t able to do it that year. We started one here in East Tennessee State Court Clerks, a Purple Gala in August in Knoxville. We raised over $75,000 and we have a group to come in to sing. It’s a great time. Blount County is a special place. One of the things that I use sometimes in my talks, even though Blount County has grown tremendously population-wise, is that Blount County still hadn’t given up the Mayberry Syndrome of community involvement. 

That’s what makes it so special and helping people, that’s what it’s all about. You’re supposed to love your neighbor and I don’t think there’s a better place in the State of Tennessee or in the United States that does a better job in loving our neighbor than we do right here in Blount County.

AV: You’ve had an illustrious career. What’s next for you, Tom? What other challenges do you want to take on?

TH: I’m planning on running again for Circuit Court Clerk. I had planned on retiring. I’ve got a grandbaby in North Carolina and have another one that’s on the way. My wife and I had made some plans to retire at the same time. Sometimes you plan the best you can and try to do what you can for your family. It’s not always as is, our plans are God’s plans. My wife got promoted to the Assistant Director for the Veterans Affairs here in Blount County. She decided she wants to work five more years. We’ve talked to a lot of people and we’ve prayed about it. 

We feel that we need to stay where we’re at and run one more time for Court Clerk. It’s not only that. With these things that we’ve talked about, enhancing some things, doing eFiling and eSignature, and virtual courts, I think that with my experience, I need to be here and help make those things possible for Blount County. It’s to do what I can to help the other Clerks Offices in our association across the state to do that. One of the things I hope that comes out of all of this is that our Chief Justice decides to put together a task force of different people to study what each county has done and implemented during this time of crisis. We can take those things, grow, move forward in this state, and enhance our judicial system to where we’re at the top of the list in the United States. That’s what I hope happens.

AV: As a Blount County resident, I echo all of your thoughts and thank you for your service. Mike, is there anything we’ve missed?

TH: There’s one thing you’ve missed and let me say this. Avèro Advisors has been a Godsend for us here in Blount County as far as our technology, bringing us up and getting us to the next century. We’re prepared now to move and be able to do a lot of things. 

I want to thank you, AV, Mike, Mike’s staff here and your staff. You all have been a tremendous asset for me to be able to lean on. I have to say this, if there’s anybody out there reading if you are in need of help in your counties, Avèro Advisors is home faithful – they’re family. They’re not another business trying to make a buck. They care about the people that need help and they want to be there. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

AV: Thank you. Mike, anything else?

MC: I’m looking forward to the future. We’re going to be doing some interesting things here. Maybe not all of them are going to work out, but I like your attitude. We’re going to reach out, try to do those things. We’ll break a few eggs together and we’re going to find the kind of success that will help the next time we have something like this. You know there will be next time.

About Tom Hatcher

Tom Hatcher is the Circuit Court Clerk for Blount County, Tennessee. Tom is a Blount County native who began his public service career at the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked as a correction officer, dispatcher, patrolman, criminal investigator, civil and criminal process server, and as the director of the Blount Metro Narcotics Unit. 

In his 25 years as circuit court clerk, Tom successfully implemented the Cost Collection Department, which has recovered thousands of dollars in unpaid fines and restitution without impacting taxpayers; automated the court’s record system for easier and quicker access; enabled court costs to be paid online or at payment kiosks; and streamlined operations for the installation of the jail’s pneumatic tube system and video arraignment system for enhanced security.

Tom has served as president of both the East Tennessee Clerk’s Association and the Tennessee State Court Clerk’s Association, and was twice named by his peers as Circuit Court Clerk of the Year. He received the County Official of the Year award from the County Officials Association of Tennessee in 2014, and was recognized by the Blount Partnership as Philanthropist of the Year in 2015.

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