Because of the recent upsurge in COVID-19 cases, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order last week suspending most in-person court proceedings. Here are some of the details:
All jury trials are suspended through Feb. 26; exceptions may only be approved by the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
All in-person court proceedings, including municipal, juvenile, general sessions, trial and appeals courts, are suspended through Jan. 21, except for certain specific exceptions. These include bond-related matters, orders of protection, preliminary hearings and plea agreements. Also allowed are time-sensitive proceedings related to things like child custody, parental rights, foster care, and protection of elderly or vulnerable persons. Also allowed are proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 emergency or other exceptions allowed by the Chief Justice.
Please refer to the Supreme Court’s actual order for the complete, official list of exceptions. If you have an upcoming court date, and if you are represented by an attorney, contact your attorney, who can discuss your situation and ask to reschedule your case for the next available court date. Those who do not have an attorney can call the Bedford County Circuit/General Sessions Court Clerk’s office at 931-684-3223 for assistance in rescheduling court dates.
The presiding judge of each judicial district will make decisions about how in-person court proceedings will be handled under those exceptions. Only the attorneys, parties to the case, witnesses, security officers, court clerks and other necessary persons will be allowed to attend. Media representatives or others who want to attend must contact the office of the judge hearing the case at least 48 hours in advance. Social distancing will be observed, according to the Supreme Court’s July 9 and December 7 orders.
Courts should strive to do as much business as possible without in-person proceedings, using telephone, teleconferencing, email, videoconferencing, or other tools. Any rule limiting the use of such technologies is suspended until the Supreme Court orders otherwise. Judges, however, must ensure that constitutional rights and responsibilities are upheld.
Courts, and court clerk offices, must continue to function during this emergency period. If it becomes necessary to close judges’ or court clerks’ physical offices to the public, those offices must remain accessible by telephone, email and fax, during regular business hours, to the extent possible.
According to Bedford County Circuit Court Clerk Michelle Murray, those who simply need to make payments can do so easily online at www.courtfeepay.com or by calling 866-658-0845.
The Online Notary Public Act, passed in 2018, along with an order issued by Gov. Bill Lee in October, address the ability to make court filings, and attorneys and judges are encouraged to use alternative procedures that these actions make possible in relation to court filings.