$900 jury meal tab highlights officer's overspending - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

$900 jury meal tab highlights officer's overspending

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - More than $11,000 in taxpayer money has been spent on feeding juries in Hamilton County this year. With meal tabs running up to $900, it's bringing some claims of excessive spending to light.

Although it is standard practice to provide meals for working jurors, Channel 3 has learned other counties in the state follow more modest guidelines for feeding jurors -- ones that don't include dining at a steakhouse.

"I was trying to calculate it in my head, and was like, this has got to be over $400," said former Hamilton County juror, Nick Byers.

Byers is talking about one of the nicest lunches he's had in a while. During a criminal trial last month, court officers treated jurors and themselves to the Boathouse in Chattanooga. The tab totaled $506.

"They told us we could get whatever we wanted," Byers said. "We're like appetizers? They said yep, even dessert."

Over nine criminal trials in 2014, the most expensive meal ticket was $904, including $38 steaks, at Canyon Grill on Lookout Mountain, Ga. -- Tennessee taxpayer money used across state lines.

Channel 3 wanted to know how other counties in the state do it.

Shelby County jurors are free to order what they want, but from a much more modest menu, said Chief Administrative Officer Richard DeSaussure.

"They're allowed to order a sandwich, cookie, drink and a bag of chips," said DeSaussure, adding the county's standard is feeding each juror for $10 or less.

In the case a jury is sequestered, meals and lodging stay within a "budget price."

"It's not one of the fancier hotels, but by the same token, it's not a flea bag hotel either," he said. "And the same [standard applies] with the food that's provided."

The state has no set rules on feeding a juror. Some criminal courts in Davidson County ask jurors to bring their own lunch.

"The counties do it differently, and inside the counties, the courts actually can do it differently," said Tim Townsend, Davidson County Trial Court Administrator.

Most of the county's jury meals fall within the $6-$10 price range, Townsend said.

In Hamilton County, a juror's average meal in 2014 is more than double that price.

"We questioned, how much it was gonna be [and were told] 'Don't worry, the state's paying for it'," Byers said.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is still conducting an internal investigation after suspending Lt. Rick Hamrick, the officer in charge of court security. Hamrick is on paid leave pending the results of the investigation.
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