Court Docket Backlog In Tennessee Could Continue

Photo: Floor Inlay at Tennessee Supreme Court Building in Nashville, Tennessee

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Published February 17, 2021

Court dockets across Tennessee have been stalled for months, and it could be several more months before they return to normal.

Specifically, the 10th and 12th judicial districts in the state have the most Covid-related backlog.

Even though the Tennessee Supreme Court was able to relieve some Covid restrictions after a recent decline in cases, it could still take months for the court systems to get back on a normal schedule.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

Attorney General Steve Crump from the 10th district said, “Our trial dockets are obviously terribly backed up and they will be for the foreseeable future. By the time we start trying cases again, it’ll be almost a year [since the last case was tried], actually maybe a little over a year.”

Crump said trial dockets in the near future will be a mix of old and new cases in order to work through the backlog. The 10th district is comprised of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, and Polk counties. The 12th judicial district consists of Bledsoe, Franklin, Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, and Rhea counties.

The 12th district is not as backed up as the 10th district, but it will still take months for them to resume normal trial schedules.

“We’ve been handling as much as we can virtually both in sessions and circuit court and, although we’ve not been able to have grand juries meeting or jury trials, we’ve done a lot of cases on criminal information and agreed pleas,” said 12th District Attorney General Mike Taylor.

While Covid-19 postponed trials for nearly a year, it also hurt the court offices in both districts.

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Crump said, “We’ve had eight or nine positive cases in the office and almost 30 quarantines in the office, and everybody has picked up for everybody else and moved on.”

In the 12th judicial district, three assistant district attorneys were diagnosed with Covid while three others were quarantined after being exposed. Seven or eight people on the child watch staff were quarantined as well, but never contracted the virus.

Taylor said, “Circuit court is not in terrible shape.”

Even though trial dockets have been building up for months, they are likely to be pushed aside in favor of general sessions courts when things do go back to normal. The restrictions issued at the start of 2020 reduced court operations, suspended in-person hearings, and postponed jury trials.

Other court actions were delayed as efforts were made to keep those who committed misdemeanors out of jail. Many went free, whether on bonds or citations, in order to keep with social distancing guidelines in jail. As the pandemic continued into 2021, these restrictions are just starting to lessen.

Starting March 1, restrictions for in-person hearings will start to lift, as well as other in-person court proceedings that don’t require a jury. Jury trials will continue to be suspended until March 31.

Crump and Taylor said this ease in restrictions is a good thing, but it is likely to take months to sift through the backlog. Both attorney generals said this will affect the caseloads for public defenders and private attorneys.

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