The Tennessee Supreme Court is easing COVID-19 restrictions that have halted nearly all in-person proceedings in the state, including evictions and jury trials, since late March.
For the past month, judicial districts have been submitting their reopening plans. Many say they’ll check temperatures at the door, stagger docket schedules and limit the number of people allowed in the courtroom at any given time.
The latest order from Chief Justice Jeff Bivins still encourages courts to use phone or video conferencing whenever possible. The Supreme Court has started live streaming its oral arguments. And it says more than 700 proceedings have taken place on Zoom since mid-April.
“While there certainly are some challenges, many judges are finding a lot of efficiencies and advantages to deploying remote proceedings in certain circumstances,” Bivins said in a statement. “Sometimes great innovation comes out of crisis and that is what is happening across the Tennessee judiciary.”
But some matters will be harder to maneuver virtually, like jury trials. Those are now allowed to start after July 3, if strict social distancing measures are possible.
Other proceedings put on hold during the pandemic will also soon resume. The new order allows evictions to restart on June 1, and deadlines that had been temporarily waived will take effect again on June 5.
“The point of extending deadlines was to give judges, attorneys and litigants time to adjust to this new normal and weather this storm a bit,” Bivins said. “But, extensions cannot go on indefinitely.”
It will be up to individual judges or districts to decide whether to continue to delay eviction hearings and deadlines in their own courtrooms.