January 21, 2021
By: Dwayne Page
No jury trials or in-person court proceedings except for emergency matters can take place in DeKalb County or anywhere else in Tennessee at least through March 31 due to COVID 19.
The Tennessee Supreme Court announced last Friday, January 15 that it has extended its no jury, no in-person proceedings order, except when exceptions are granted on a case-by-case basis.
Although many litigants have become frustrated because of the delays in getting their cases before the courts, DeKalb County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Bratten Cook, II and Circuit Court Clerk Susan Martin said Wednesday that judges and court clerks have no choice but to comply with the Supreme Court’s order.
“ Back in December, the Supreme Court of Tennessee extended the state of emergency for the judicial branch and that particular order said there would be no in-court proceedings at least through January 31, 2021 except for emergency matters. That particular order listed the various exceptions where a court could conduct an in-court proceeding and those are basically emergency type matters. For example bond hearings on persons who are incarcerated. plea agreements for incarcerated people; orders of protection; Department of Children Services emergency matters like the removal of children. For things like that you can have in-person court and we are doing that although most of those types of hearings I have held by Zoom which has certainly been better than in-person. Last week, January 15 the Supreme Court filed an order that left the state of emergency in effect and the suspension of in-court proceedings until at least April 1. There will be no in-court proceedings through March 31 and that is not just the General Sessions and Juvenile Courts but Circuit Court and Chancery Court and this order applies across the state of Tennessee, not just DeKalb County or our judicial district,” said Judge Cook.
“My heart goes out to all of those that have been affected by this order and I want nothing more than to be able to help them during this time but I have to obey the Tennessee Supreme Court Order. I appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this difficult time and just know that I am and will work diligently to get your cases before the Judges as quickly as possible when the court system reopens,” said Circuit Court Clerk Martin.
“If anyone has a case set to be heard during this time (through March 31) you need to call my office toward the end of March and hopefully get your new court date. If you were scheduled to appear before Judge Tiffany Gipson on February 1 at 11:00 a.m. your new court date is May 3 at 11:00 a.m. My office is open and available to everyone during this time. If anyone has a need to come to the courthouse you need to call when you get here so that someone can meet you at the door and this is for all offices in the courthouse; the numbers are posted on each door,” added Martin.
“I know it is so frustrating to litigants whether you have a civil case or criminal case to not be able to get the case heard and sometimes our Circuit Court Clerk Susan Martin and Clerk and Master Debra Malone get the brunt of the public criticism but they are frustrated like we all are. They are not responsible. This Supreme Court order is the reason that the cases are not being heard and I can tell you none of the judges are going to violate that order. We will work around it as best we can and with Zoom. Hopefully, April 1 the courts will open back up for in-person proceedings,” said Judge Cook.
The judge said he sympathizes with victims of crime and others with civil and criminal cases that need to be heard as well as landlords concerned about eviction or detainer actions.
“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last year put down a nationwide moratorium on detainer actions along with the Supreme Court. The thinking was that this was no time to put somebody out on the sidewalk (eviction) because of the financial strain COVID has been on so many people although I understand it is also a financial strain on landlords because many of them owe on their rental property and the banks are looking for payment every month and if the renters are not paying its putting a real burden on them,” he said.
“For those landlords who have rental property that consists of single family homes or residential property, there can be no detainer actions heard at all, whether by in-person or Zoom, or any other way until at least April 1. Tenants are still obligated under the Supreme Court order to continue paying rent but there currently can’t be any detainer action and consequently no writs of possession where the sheriff comes out and actually moves someone out. That only applies to rental property that is used for residential purposes. That does not apply to business rental property,” Judge Cook said.
When in-person court proceedings eventually resume, Judge Cook said it will take some time to work through the backlog of cases.
“We are handling as much as we can through Zoom and what few limited in-person hearings we are able to do but this affects not just the General Sessions and Juvenile Courts but the Circuit and Chancery Courts which in the 13th Judicial District covers seven counties including DeKalb so unfortunately for those waiting on car wreck cases, divorce cases, custody cases and things like that it may be many months after the courts open back up before those cases can ever get back on the docket. I just want everybody to know we have no control over it. I do not. Our other judges do not. The clerks do not. We just have to honor what the Supreme Court says,” said Judge Cook.