Tennessee Supreme Court halts in-person proceedings over coronavirus

Associated Press • Mar 13, 2020 at 1:23 PM

NASHVILLE  — Tennessee’s highest court on Friday suspended all in-person judicial proceedings until the end of the month due to the spread of the new coronavirus.

The Supreme Court order applies to state and local courts, including appellate, trial, general session, juvenile and municipal courts.

“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,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins in a statement. “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.”

Bivins noted that judges, court clerks and other essential constitutional functions will continue to proceed. Likewise, court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconference and email will continue to be allowed.

Bivins’ decision also includes several exceptions ranging from emergency child custody orders, emergency mental health orders to COVID-19 public health emergency proceedings.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

As of Thursday, Tennessee had 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The state has not yet updated case confirmations as of Friday morning.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced a state of emergency for the city on Friday. The decision comes after Gov. Bill Lee filed a statewide emergency declaration the day before.

There are no known confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chattanooga, but Berke’s decision allows the city to take certain preventive actions. This includes canceling city-sponsored senior activities and suspending public access and activities at the city’s youth centers and library branches.

In Nashville, the public library has also suspended its programming starting March 16 until April 16.

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