Court proceedings impacted by COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected courtrooms across the country.

In both Tennessee and Virginia, courts were ordered to convene only if absolutely necessary.

Kristen Gallant was in Sullivan County to find out how operations are altered there.

Coronavirus has changed the way local courts, like Sullivan County, is doing business to keep both the public and their employees safe.

At the Sullivan County Court House, the courtroom doors were closed and seats were empty as hearings have been moved from the courtroom to online.

“The easy part is I get to sit in my office. So you got a lot more resources,” said Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney, William Harper.

This change doesn’t come without its challenges though.

“The challenges however,” said Harper, “you do have to be a little bit more prepared in some ways because of the fact that every body’s not in the same room.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court suspended most in person judicial proceedings.

“It drags them out which impacts defendants who are in custody, but it also impacts our victims,” Harper explains.

This changes the type of cases judges hear on a daily basis.

“I hear anything from low level misdemeanors all the way to first degree murder, which is the most serious crime we have. Typically I do jury trials, but right now because of the in person suspension, I cant have jury trials,” said Sullivan County Criminal Court Judge, Jim Goodwin.

The Tennessee Supreme Court is asking judges for input on what they can do to help.

“The more court hearing I can have through teleconferencing or video conferencing the less people I have to have in the courtroom,” explains Goodwin.

With video capability from jail, the courts are able to continue inmate hearings, which is something Judge Goodwin said he hopes can continue after courts are reopened.

“Especially for jail population, I think it’s safer for the jail staff because they have to move them less, and it’s working out really well,” he said.

Hearings in the courtroom may begin again in July according to Governor Bill Lee’s executive order.

“As far as regulating hearings, in person hearings, is try to limit the number of people who come into the courtroom at any given time,” said Goodwin.

The courts continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19 by coordinating with local health departments to evaluate how to respond to the pandemic.

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