Jeff Bivins

Page to take over as chief justice of Tennessee Supreme Court

The state Supreme Court has elected Roger Page as its new chief justice. He succeeds Jeff Bivins, who has presided over the court since 2016. Both justices were appointed to the state’s highest court by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The change in leadership comes as the state prepares for judicial elections in August 2022, followed by the Supreme Court’s appointment of the state’s next attorney general. Current AG Herbert Slatery hasn’t said whether he will apply for another eight-year term.

Here’s the full release from the Adminstrative Office of the Courts:

Nashville Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Roger A. Page has been elected Chief Justice by his colleagues for a term that begins September 1, 2021. Justice Page succeeds Justice Jeff Bivins, who has served as chief justice since September 2016.

“It is an honor to serve as chief justice and a responsibility that I do not take lightly,” Justice Page said. “Our Supreme Court has over 100 years of judicial experience and is well-prepared to take on the serious and complex issues as the law continues to be amended and revised, to grow and evolve.” 

Justice Page will be sworn-in by Justice Connie Clark in a small ceremony to be held in the courtroom he presided over in the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex on September 1 at 1:30 p.m.  In order to accommodate members of the judicial family, the bar, state leaders, and policymakers, the event will be livestreamed at: https://www.youtube.com/user/TNCourts/featured.

The location and day are not without personal meaning.  Justice Page was ceremoniously sworn-in as a trial judge by federal Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, for whom he clerked after law school, in the same courtroom exactly 23 years ago to the day.

“I began my judicial career in that courtroom and served the community I grew up in as a trial judge for more than thirteen years,” he said. “It means so much to be able to step back into that courtroom to take the oath as chief justice in front of my family. They have given me unconditional support every step of the way.” 

Justice Page graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy and worked as a pharmacist in Memphis before he  earned his law degree from the University of Memphis, graduating fourth in his class.  He began his judicial career when he was elected Circuit Court Judge in 1998 for the 26th Judicial District, which includes Chester, Henderson, and Madison counties.

He was appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeals by former Governor Bill Haslam in 2011.  In 2016, Governor Haslam appointed him to the Supreme Court.  For the first time in thirty years, a rural West Tennessean will serve as chief justice.

Justice Page was raised on the family farm in Mifflin,  Chester County, Tennessee, with West Tennessee  roots going back seven generations. His mother and his aunt will join his wife, retired Chancellor Carol McCoy, and two sons and their spouses for the swearing-in ceremony. He also has three grandchildren with another one expected in January 2022. 

“The Supreme Court serves the entire State, and the judiciary significantly reflects the diverse collection of viewpoints, backgrounds, and perspectives at all levels of justice,” Justice Page said. “From big cities and urban neighborhoods to sprawling suburbs to rural farms, small river towns, and communities settled atop mountain ridges, our State encompasses all views.” 

Across the state, the court system is still responding to and recovering from the pandemic, during which jury trials were postponed. On a positive note, judges and their court staff quickly adopted new technologies to ensure courts always remained open and accessible and that cases moved forward as much as possible. New and expanding technologies, together with strategies to increase the use of senior and retired judges as well as alternative dispute resolution, have provided judges with an array of resources.

Justice Page will continue to emphasize the Supreme Court’s prized Access to Justice initiative.  It focuses on civil actions when litigants do not have the right to an attorney and  is critical to the state’s economic growth and the personal stability of its citizens.  

“Courts need to be open, fair, efficient, and accessible to everyone in our state,” Justice Page said. “We have made strides by shoring up the guardian ad litem program and creating the appellate public defender’s office, but there is more work to be done. The equitable, effective, and professional administration of justice benefits everyone from litigants to victims to defendants to taxpayers to communities. Our present opportunity to invest in efficient changes will promote a positive effect on generations to come.”

Expanding access to the courts in rural communities is an issue Justice Page will stress during his term as Chief Justice. One aspect of Access to Justice is expanding high speed internet access into all rural counties of the State.  Justice Page supports judicial efficiency and recognizes that Governor Bill Lee’s efforts in that area will allow courts to expand remote hearings and e-filing, allowing every citizen in the State to have equal access and participation in the judicial system.

“Chief Justice Bivins did a tremendous job leading the Supreme Court and the judiciary,” Justice Page said. “It was extremely challenging at times, and he rose to the occasion, providing clear direction and effective and innovative solutions. While there is uncertainty about where we are headed, I am confident we have a solid blueprint to work with going forward.”

In-person Tennessee court hearings suspended until April 1

Tennessee courts are suspending in-person judicial proceedings until April 1 in response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Courts will continue to conduct business, Chief Justice Jeff Bivins announced.

Here’s the release from the Administrative Office of the Courts:

The Tennessee Supreme Court today issued an Order stating all Tennessee courts will remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, but suspending all in-person judicial proceedings through March 31, 2020. Chief Justice Jeff Bivins declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch, which follows Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order and declaration of a state of emergency on March 12, 2020. The Order applies to state and local Tennessee courts, including appellate, trial, general sessions, juvenile, and municipal courts.

“Each day across the State of Tennessee, thousands of people attend court proceedings in-person when they come to the courthouse as jurors, witnesses, litigants, or in another capacity. Public spaces in courthouses tend to be small, tightly packed bench seats that provide the type of situations public health officials have encouraged people to avoid during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins. “However, judges, court clerks, and others provide essential constitutional functions that must be carried on. In issuing this Order, the Court struck a balance in limiting the public’s exposure to the virus with continuing essential court functions judges must provide to ensure the administration of justice.”

The Order includes a substantial list of exceptions including proceedings necessary to protect constitutional rights of criminal defendants, such as bond-related matters and plea agreements for incarcerated individuals; civil and criminal jury trials that are in progress as of March 13, 2020; proceedings relating to orders of protection; proceedings related to emergency child custody orders; Department of Children’s Services emergency matters related to child protection; proceedings related to petitions for temporary injunctive relief; proceedings related to emergency mental health orders; proceedings related to emergency protection of elderly or vulnerable persons; and proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. In addition, other exceptions to the suspension of in-person court proceedings may be approved by the Chief Justice. Any permitted in-court proceedings will be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and necessary persons as determined by the trial judge.  

“We are reducing the number of people physically in the courthouse each day while ensuring judges and court clerks have the ability to continue with their constitutionally required duties,” Chief Justice Bivins said.

The Court’s Order includes several other provisions to help alleviate hardships or unintended consequences caused by the suspension of non-essential, in-person proceedings. For example, deadlines set forth in court rules, statutes, and administrative rules, including statutes of limitations, that are set to expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020, are extended through April 6, 2020 and orders of protection that would expire between March 13 and April 6, 2020, are extended until April 6, 2020.

“This is new territory for everyone,” Chief Bivins said. “We encourage judges, court clerks, attorneys, law enforcement, and others to work together to develop creative solutions that work for their individual jurisdictions. The goal is to limit the number of people coming into court each day while continuing to meet our duty and administer justice. We may amend this Order as the situation evolves, and we understand more about the obstacles judges and court staff are facing.”

The order expressly does not prohibit court proceedings by telephone, video, teleconferencing, email, or other means that do not involve in-person contact. The Court’s Order also suspends any Tennessee rule, criminal or civil, that limits a judge’s or clerk’s ability to utilize available technologies, including telephone conferences, video conferences, and video arraignments, that can help limit in-person contact. The Order does not affect a court’s consideration of civil or criminal matters that can be resolved without oral argument. 

Read the Order

Here’s your Bill Lee inauguration gallery

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Bill Lee delivers his inaugural address in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee, bottom left, looks on as his Cabinet takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig Tennessee Journal)

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