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State Courts Suspend In-Person Events to Help Slow COVID-19 Spread

Tennessee Court System

Many in-person court proceedings have been suspended in Tennessee courtrooms until at least March 31, and Knox County has suspended jury duty summons for the same period.

The moves are part of the court system's attempt to help slow the spread of COVID-19. State health officials reported 39 cases in Tennessee as of Sunday afternoon.

The court system took pains to note that it will still conduct judicial business through remote means, such as teleconferencing, email and video chats.

“This is new territory for everyone,” Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said in a press release. “We encourage judges, court clerks, attorneys, law enforcement, and others to work together to develop creative solutions that work for their individual jurisdictions. The goal is to limit the number of people coming into court each day while continuing to meet our duty and administer justice.”

Bivins' order, issued Friday, contains quite a few exceptions. They include:

  • Proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, such as bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals
  • Civil and criminal jury trials that were in progress as of Friday, March 13
  • Proceedings relating to orders of protection
  • Proceedings related to emergency child custody orders and Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child protection
  • Proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Chief Justice Bivins may also approve exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Any permitted in-court proceedings will be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and necessary persons as determined by the trial judge, according to the state court system.
Federal courts in Knoxville, Greeneville and Chattanooga remain open for the time being.