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Tennessee Supreme Court Issues New Order Related to Court Operations During Covid-19

John Ballard Nov. 18, 2020

In response to the increased number of COVID-19 cases in the state, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued an Order today designed to protect all of the participants in the judicial system and the public at large while keeping the courts open and accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings. This is the Court's sixth order related to the pandemic since it declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch on March 13, 2020.

Today's Order suspends jury trials from November 23, 2020, through January 31, 2021, unless an exemption is granted by the Chief Justice. Jury trials were previously suspended from March 13 to July 3, 2020. In addition, the Order directs judicial districts to revisit and strictly adhere to their previously approved reopening plans; reiterates that the Court's July 9 Order mandating face coverings for all persons who enter the courthouse for court-related business is still in full effect; encourages video conferencing whenever possible; reminds judges and attorneys that they have an ethical obligation to comply with Court Orders and the reopening plans drafted by the judicial districts; and prohibits anyone with COVID-19 from participating in an in-person proceeding. In addition, the Order directs judges to schedule and conduct in-person hearings in a manner that minimizes wait times in courthouse hallways, which often have limited space for social distancing."

I think that the prohibition on jury trials will continue past January 31st. There just does not seem to be a good way to get 12 people in the courtroom to do a jury trial. Let alone pick a jury. Keep in mind, these jurors sit in a room full of 300 other jurors just waiting to be ushered to the appropriate courtroom, usually 30 at a time. I just do not see that happening until a vaccine is widely distributed. Plus, what rational person would go to such a thing? Especially in Nashville.

Hopefully, we can get through the rest of 2020 with our current court dates intact. We need them.