Home | About Us | Find a Lawyer | Success Stories | FAQs | Blog | Contact Us | Other Resources
With the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, how much of our lives have we put on hold? When the crisis first hit Knox County in mid-March, everything seemed to freeze, including our court system. Judicial evictions for non-payment of rent were temporarily paused absent extraordinary circumstances. Filing deadlines and statutes of limitation were extended. Jury trials were delayed, and hearings were continued. Even reaching a live person on the phone might have felt impossible. If you decided to wait to file that lawsuit you had in mind, you would have been in good company.
Things have changed. Five months later, Knox County courts have strived to establish a new normal. After being closed for all in-person matters for eight weeks this spring, Fifth General Sessions (Civil) has been fully reopened since early May. Tennessee courts generally resumed hearing eviction matters on June 1st. Various statutory, administrative, and court rule deadlines were extended through June 5th, but not beyond. The extension of orders of protection and temporary injunctions through June 15th has ended, and the suspension of jury trials during the state of emergency lifted in early July. While in-person contact may be limited in judges’ and court clerks’ offices, they are nevertheless required to remain open for business. In many ways, the spring freeze of court operations has thoroughly thawed.
Because the courts lost several months of full operation, you might expect delays in filing new cases. However, as Esther Roberts, judicial clerk with the Knox County General Sessions Courts, reports, “There is no backlog per se.” Yes, cases from the spring were reset, and the courts are now trying to ensure proper social distancing protocols are being followed; but as a general rule, the court system is endeavoring to provide timely access.
Although the Knox County courts are operational, your experience in the courtroom will be different in the COVID-19 era. Several precautions have been adopted to make courtrooms safer. There are permanently installed “sneeze guards” in all the General Sessions courtrooms. There are also “social distancing” seating arrangements and temporary docket caps to allow individuals to stay as far apart as practicable. This summer Fifth General Sessions temporarily moved to a larger location in the Main Assembly Room of the City-County Building to allow larger dockets while still keeping social distancing guidelines in place. The Tennessee Supreme Court has ordered facial coverings to be worn by everyone at all times while inside the courthouse.
Outside of the courtroom, Knox County General Sessions Courts have also taken additional precautions. In criminal cases, for example, the courts are offering video plea technology for defendants who are interested in entering a plea remotely. The Tennessee Supreme Court is actively encouraging local court systems to use technology whenever possible to reduce in-person contact and court time. The court system has frequently advised attorneys to prepare their cases outside of the courtroom as much as possible.
Of course, as the pandemic evolves, the governmental and judicial responses will also likely evolve. As of this writing, federal protections from the CARES Act prohibiting certain evictions have lapsed and our federal leaders have not come to an agreement about the next coronavirus bill. If and when a new federal coronavirus bill is enacted, you may want to turn to a trusted source of information to check how it might affect the local courts. The Knoxville Bar Association’s COVID-19 resource page is regularly updated with news from the courts and other legal developments: https://www.knoxbar.org/COVID-19. For questions specifically about Fifth General Sessions (Civil), feel free to contact the Court Clerk Charlie Susano at (865) 215-4038.
Bottom line: If you are still sitting on a potential lawsuit, stop waiting! While there are noticeable changes in Knox County courts, the courts are also hearing cases and no longer extending deadlines. Call the Knoxville Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service today to get referred to a private attorney for an initial, free consultation: (865) 522-7501.
 Supreme Court of Tennessee, Order Extending State of Emergency and Easing Suspension of In-Person Court Proceedings, No. ADM2020-00428, filed May 26, 2020. Accessible online at https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/docs/tsc_order_5-26.pdf.
 Supreme Court of Tennessee, Order Regarding Face Coverings, No. ADM2020-00428, filed July 9, 2020. Accessible online at http://tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/docs/order_regarding_face_coverings.pdf. There are exceptions to the requirement for children 12-years-old or younger and certain individuals for health-related reasons.
 Supra, Order Extending State of Emergency and Easing Suspension of In-Person Court Proceedings, No. ADM2020-00428
 “Courts Reopening and Evictions,” brochure provided by the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, accessible online at https://las.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Courts-Reopen-Housing-Zac.pdf.
If you’re looking for a lawyer and just don’t know where to start, the Knoxville Bar Association’s LRIS is a great place to begin. We match you with a lawyer that suits your needs. Our trusted attorneys provide you with a free consultation so that you can decide if it’s the right fit. Want to learn more? Call us at (865) 522-7501 or visit knoxbar.org/lawyerfinder.
The materials contained in this blog are intended to, and do, provide only a broad overview of various legal topics. The general information contained in this material is not designed nor intended to be a substitute for legal advice on a specific legal issue or question. In addition, the information provided in this material is only general advice and may not be applicable to apparent similar individual problems, since only slight changes in facts change the applicable advice. If you have a legal problem or question, please consult an attorney.
Any publication, distribution, or other use of these materials without the express written consent of the Knoxville Bar Association is prohibited.
Copyright 2021, Knoxville Bar Association, All Rights Reserved