By Ashley Benkarski
MURFREESBORO, TN — Andrae Crismon, formerly with the Legal Aid Society (LAS) of Middle Tennessee, is running to take on the role of Rutherford County’s Juvenile Court Judge.
The position was vacated by Donna Scott Davenport on the heels of a scandal that saw the County’s juvenile detention rate soar to the highest in the state.
Crismon is running as an independent and has one challenger; his Twitter bio describes him as a “Republocrat.”
It seems a small identifier, but to Crismon, it means making inroads in spaces where party lines are hard-drawn.
Rutherford Countians have more in common with each other than they realize, especially when it comes to protecting their children, reducing harm and promoting healing.
Paraphrasing former president Bill Clinton, Crismon said that what’s right with Rutherford County could help solve what’s been wrong.
Crismon said he believes he’s in a position to balance those values while upholding the law.
His experience with the Legal Aid Society has informed his approach to the bench, he said. He joined the Gallatin branch in 2007, where he took on the role of Managing Attorney in the Murfreesboro office a few years later and, eventually, served as Volunteer Lawyers Program Director.
Ahead of the election Crismon has been doing the work of getting to know the people he’ll be working with, including the magistrates and Circuit Court Clerk staff, adding that “all of us carry out the delivery of these juvenile services.”
“There are no ‘easy’ buttons,” he said of the role, but he’d work to increase parental involvement, effectively connect parties to resources in the community and use data to determine gaps and identify issues that need correcting.
Crismon said he sent out 313 emails to attorneys and other legal professionals to determine the issues they’ve been seeing and found a few he’d like the opportunity to address.
The first is that many lawyers complained about being kept at the back of the docket, with their client paying for multiple hours on simple cases that would take mere minutes to resolve, he relayed.
Another major issue is that the juvenile court is losing attorneys, Crismon added.
Because the juvenile court has dual jurisdiction over some matters with the circuit court, lawyers have been bringing cases to the latter and skipping juvenile court altogether.
“That creates a domino effect of problems,” Crismon said, from a back-up in dockets to mounting costs in representation. He’s hoping to answer the question of why lawyers are filing elsewhere and tell them he wants them back in juvenile court, he said.
Crismon said he believes his C.A.R.E. platform — community, adjudication, restoration and education — will create a road map for the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County.
Communication: Implement quarterly “Meet the Judge” meetings with parents, guardians, and children in partnership with city and county schools.
Adjudication: Make the tough decisions that need to be made in a variety of family law and youth matters. Emphasize protecting child victims, keeping the community safe while providing a roadmap for restoration for youth who have committed offenses.
Restoration: Work to implement more diversionary and community based rehabilitation practices by exploring opportunities with Youth Villages, TN Youth Court, and other community and faith-based partners.
Education: Train and then implement best practices in the delivery of Juvenile Court Services – inclusive of trauma-informed practices to mitigate the negative impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University Law School, Crismon is a pastor known for his work in the community.
According to the LAS website, Crismon is a past chair of the Rutherford-Cannon County Bar Association Public Service Committee and serves on the Tennessee Bar Association’s (TBA) Access to Justice Committee and a former member of the Leadership Middle Tennessee, Class of 2013. He received the Nashville Business Journal’s 2014 Rutherford County Impact Award.
He has also served on the Board of Directors for Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, among other organizations, and has recently taught courses at MTSU concerning handling pro bono during the pandemic, pro bono referral cases for conservatorships, and housing law advocacy, according to the TBA.
Information on Crismon’s campaign can be found on Facebook.