As coronavirus cases spike in Hamblen County and continue to rise in Greene, Hawkins and Hancock counties, Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins will require masks in all courtrooms in the Third Judicial District beginning Monday as a means of ending court proceedings altogether.
“We’re just trying to head this off at the pass,” Jenkins said this morning. “I’m afraid the Supreme Court will make us quit having court again. This is a good alternative … I apologize. I know it’s inconvenient.”
The new mask policy will include all judges, clerks, bailiffs, court security personnel, litigants, attorneys and anyone else who are inside a courtroom. Masks will be provided free of charge to litigants, according to Jenkins, the presiding Third Judicial District judge
The exceptions are a witness who is giving testimony; judges who are on the way or on the bench; lawyers who are trying cases or addressing a judge; clerks seat in the courtroom during court who are adequately social distance; and socially distanced clerks who are at their work stations in their offices.
The new rules will impact only courtrooms in Hamblen, Hawkins, Hancock and Greene counties.
The restrictions will not cover the county government offices like county mayor, trustee and the like. Judges will have the authority to enforce the rules. Those who refuse to comply could be removed for the courtroom or charged with contempt.
In the common areas of the courthouses, security personnel will be charged with enforcement. All possible efforts will continue to conduct video arraignments and pleas, the chancellor said.
Jenkins says he delayed implementation of the new rules until Monday to allow the county governments to procure masks. Masks will be required in courtrooms until Aug. 1. Jenkins says he will revisit the issue at that time and decide whether or not the mask rules will continue.