The Tennessee Supreme Court has issued an Order that will continue to ease the current restrictions on in-person proceedings. The most recent Order reduces the required space between people in the courtroom from six to three feet; lifts any courtroom capacity limits still in effect; and lifts the facial coverings requirement. The Order provides judicial districts and judge’s discretion to require courtroom capacity limits as health and safety conditions necessitate. The Order also still encourages facial coverings in compliance with CDC guidelines and allows any person to wear a facial covering. Finally, the Order encourages courts to continue to use alternative means to in-person hearings, including video and teleconferences.
“Statewide, the courts have done a tremendous job staying open under these trying circumstances for over a year and the Supreme Court commends their innovation, dedication, and perseverance in following our Orders, CDC Guidelines, and state and county health directives,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins. “It is time to allow courts more flexibility in managing their caseloads and courtrooms while still being cognizant that the virus is still out there.”
This is the tenth Order the Court has issued related to the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020 to June 2020 and again from December 2020 to March 2021, many types of in-person proceedings were suspended and strict precautions were mandated for any permissible in-person proceedings. Courts turned to video and audio conferences, outdoor locations, staggered dockets, and other innovative ideas to keep cases moving and constitutional and other rights preserved. Overall, courts have held more than 18,692 video proceedings on Zoom licenses managed by the Administrative Office of the Courts. On March 15, 2021, the most recent suspension of non-jury in-person proceedings was lifted, and on March 31, 2021 the suspension of jury trials was lifted.