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In-person court to return sooner than expected

The Tennessee Supreme Court is lifting restrictions on in-person court proceedings earlier than expected.

Thanks to the recent drop in statewide COVID cases and hospitalizations, most in-person court proceedings will resume in March.

On Monday, March 1, court cases regarding the termination of parental rights can resume.

Two weeks later, on Monday, March 15, all other non-jury court proceedings can resume. This includes municipal, juvenile and criminal court cases.

Jury trials remain suspended through the close of business on Wednesday, March 31. According to the order issued Friday by Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, even with in-person court cases resuming, precautions should still be in effect.

“Any permitted in-person court proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, court clerks, and other necessary persons, as determined by the judge and should be scheduled and conducted in a manner to minimize wait time in courthouse hallways,” the order signed by Judge Bivins reads. Numbers furnished by the T e n n e s s e e Department of Health on Monday show Warren County has 105 active COVID cases. There are 34,530 active cases statewide. Even though in-person proceedings will resume, courts are still encouraged to conduct as much business as possible by means other than meeting in-person through the use of phone, teleconferencing, email, video conferencing or other options.

“I was encouraged to receive word Friday by email from the Tennessee Supreme Court and immediately went to work on notifying clients who have been waiting patiently, many since December, to have their matters heard,” said local attorney Ryan J. Moore. “This decision to lift the in-person suspension on non-jury civil and criminal matters is a step in the right direction to help move our dockets forward. It’s still important to be vigilant in social distancing and wearing masks at the courthouse to accomplish the goal of getting back to business as usual.”

In addition, judges determining whether to proceed with an in-person hearing should strongly consider not compelling the attendance of attorneys, litigants, and witnesses who express particular vulnerabilities to COVID-19 due to health issues.