The Tennessee Supreme Court Friday issued an order suspending in-person court proceedings immediately and at least until the end of March, and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office announced jail visitations were being canceled for the weekend.
The order applies to all state and local levels of courts, including appellate, trial, general sessions, juvenile and municipal courts.
Chief Justice Jeff Bivins declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch, which follows Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order and declaration of a state of emergency last Thursday.
“Each day across the state of Tennessee, thousands of people attend court proceedings in-person when they come to the courthouse as jurors, witnesses, litigants, or in another capacity. Public spaces in courthouses tend to be small, tightly packed bench seats that provide the type of situations public health officials have encouraged people to avoid during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Bivins in a press release.
Judges, court clerks and others help to provide essential constitutional functions that must be carried out, so the order created a list of exceptions for the suspension which 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 are in progress as of March 13, proceedings relating to orders of protection, proceedings related to emergency child custody orders, Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child protection, proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief, proceedings related to emergency mental health orders, proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons and proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Bivins said in making the announcement.
Other exceptions to the suspension of in-person court proceedings may be approved by the Chief Justice. Any permitted in-court proceedings will be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and necessary persons as determined by the trial judge.
Cumberland County Clerk of Courts Jessica Hale Burgess stated, “As everyone is aware, there has been an order suspending in-person court proceedings, starting the close of business on March 13, 2020 through Tuesday, March 31, 2020. If you have court scheduled in Cumberland County, please contact my office. My staff and I will be in the office during regular business hours and will be continuing all court cases that are scheduled for March 16, 2020-March 31, 2020.
Both the Circuit Court Clerk's Office and the Clerk and Master's office will be open on regular schedule during this closure. Both offices do accept credit cards over the phone if you need to make a payment. If you have any questions please feel free to contact our office Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thank you for your understanding.”
Phone number for the General Sessions Court is 931-484-6647; for Circuit (and Criminal) Court is 931-484-5852; and for Clerk and Master Sue Tollett, 931-484-4731.
Crossville Police Public Information Officer Capt. Brian Eckelson issued the following press release Friday: “The Crossville Police Department announces that due to an order issued by the Supreme Court of Tennessee, in reference to COVID-19 PANDEMIC - No. ADM2020-00428, leaving courts open but suspending in-person court proceedings, the March 31, 2020, City Court date will be re-scheduled for April 21, 2020.
This order is intended to be interpreted broadly for protection of the public from risks associated with COVID-19.”