Sullivan County judge says media, public access to court hasn’t changed

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Judge reponds to concerns from Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Even though the operations of in-person court proceedings continue to change, a local judge said media and public access to court proceedings remain constant.

In a blog post posted last week, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Director Deborah Fisher called for more transparency from state courts in operations plans submitted to the Tennessee Supreme Court several weeks ago.

The plans, submitted by each district, outline the proceedings of each district court to continue in-person operations while maintaining social distancing and ensuring public health.

Sullivan County’s plans, like many, mandate a 10-person limit in courtrooms. Those that are permitted inside of courtrooms must pass health screenings like temperature checks.

Fisher argued that courts should include provisions in these plans that address how media and the public may access those proceedings.

Previous story: Are Tennessee courts maintaining transparency in their operations?

Judge Jim Goodwin, who presides over Sullivan County Criminal Court, said that hasn’t changed in his courtroom – it wasn’t included in the operational plans because it’s already covered under statewide laws.

“When (The Tennessee Supreme Court) suspended in-perspon proceedings, they didn’t suspend Rule 30 so if it hasn’t changed,” Goodwin said.

According to Rule 30 from the Tennessee Supreme Court:

Requests by representatives of the media for such coverage must be made in writing to the presiding judge not less than two (2) business days before the proceeding is scheduled to begin. The presiding judge may waive the two-day requirement at his or her discretion.

Read Rule 30 here.

Goodwin said that since in-person proceedings began last week, he’s made accommodations for news organizations to cover proceedings remotely.

Last week, Goodwin said the Administrative Office of the Courts helped his staff livestream a hearing on Megan Boswell, the woman of a toddler found dead in March.

“That access may look different than it has in the past, but every media request that we’ve received, we’ve honored and we’ve made revisions so (the media) could join in,” he said.

Watch: Megan Boswell May 8th Court Appearance

He also said he plans to get a YouTube account up and running to livestream court proceedings. Additionally, he said footage of all court proceedings is available through the clerk’s office at all times.

“We’re really trying as hard as we can to keep the courts moving forward and there’s growing pains,” Goodwin said. “In February, I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that, one that the in-person proceedings would have been shut down or that we would even have to have this conversation.”

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