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Courthouse mask rule that begins Monday may deplete Hawkins clerk's supply

Jeff Bobo • Jul 4, 2020 at 1:15 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Beginning Monday, the wearing of protective masks will be mandatory in all courthouses within the Third Judicial District, including Hawkins, Hamblen, Greene and Hancock counties, at least until Aug. 1.

Hawkins County Clerk of Courts Randy Collier told the Times News Thursday he will be providing masks for free if needed, but he also asks that members of the public bring their own mask to court so as to not deplete his supply.

Collier also asks anyone who has a supply of masks to call him at (423) 272-4517. Although he still has masks that were donated by a Rogersville volunteer group in April, Collier said he expects that supply will go quickly and won’t last until the mandate is lifted.

COVID-19 outbreak in Hamblen jail

An order that mandated the wearing of masks in 3rd Judicial District courthouses issued this week by Chancellor Doug Jenkins was in response to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the Hamblen County jail.

Jenkins stated in a memo that he conducted a a telephone conference call Monday with all county mayors, judges, clerks, and other courthouse personnel regarding the best way to continue court while minimizing the risk to staff and the public.

The solution was to require anyone entering the courthouse — including judges, attorneys, security personnel, courthouse staff, and the public — to wear a face mask.

The only exceptions are when a witness is called to the stand to testify, when a judge is on his or her way to the bench or on the bench, when attorneys are trying a case, and when clerks seated in the courtroom during court are sufficiently separated to meet social distance requirements.

“Any judge has the authority to require masks to be worn at all times in their courtroom at their discretion,” Jenkins stated in the memo.

Anyone who refuses to comply with the order can be ejected from the courthouse and/or charged with contempt.

“Encouraging the public to bring their own mask”

Collier told the Times News he has about 400 face masks stockpiled thanks to donations from a group of volunteers comprised of members of the Rogersville-based Project Serve Our Soldiers, Happy Hearts Quilting Guild, and Knight of Columbus, who manufactured and distributed masks in Hawkins County in March and April.

However, Collier noted that he could be handing out as many as 75-100 free masks per day to people coming to court, so his current supply will dry up fast.

“We’re basically encouraging the public to bring their own mask if they have one because we have a shortage of masks right now,” Collier said. “If any business or any company out there has any masks we can have access to, I’d appreciate if they’d call.”

Access to the courthouses is being limited to individuals who are part of a case that is on the docket. Courtrooms are also being kept at only half capacity, which requires folks on the docket to wait in the parking lot to be called by a bailiff.

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