New Video Equipment to Expand Access in Knoxville Court

March 26, 2018

The Fourth Circuit Court for Knox County is the designated Circuit Court in the Sixth Judicial District to hear divorces, orders of protection, and Juvenile Court matters that are appealed to Circuit Court.  A large number of the litigants that come before the Court are pro se, particularly in order of protection matters and in post-divorce actions seeking modification or enforcement of co-parenting and support obligations.  Over the years, it has become clear that one road block for pro se litigants wanting to appeal a decision is securing an official court record.

The Court has seen a number of appeals subsequently dismissed because of the pro se appellant’s inability to provide a transcript, or a transcript of the evidence.  Self-represented individuals often do not know to hire a court reporter, cannot afford one (to take the hearing or, more importantly, to prepare the transcript), or find the proposition of preparing a statement of the evidence too overwhelming and beyond their ability.  

To help address this issue, the Fourth Circuit Court for Knox County is receiving new electronic recording equipment for its proceedings, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 26 (“Rule 26”). Rule 26 specifically outlines the Official Electronic Recordings of Court Proceedings.

When asked about how this video equipment will enhance his courtroom, Judge Greg McMillan said, “It will assist parties who do not have the resources to hire a court reporter in creating a record of the proceedings for use in appeals.  I hope that new attorneys will obtain copies of their hearings for use in evaluating their advocacy and improving their skills.” Judge McMillan is a Circuit Court Judge for Knox County and has been serving the bench since 2014.

The proposed system utilizes six microphones, four cameras, and two simultaneous recording devices. The system is controlled by the trial judge from the bench.  Having the system administered by the judge will permit compliance with Section 2.05 of Rule 26.  The system will have the ability to place onto storage media (CD-Rom or DVD) each day’s proceedings to make the two official recordings required by Section 2.03 of Rule 26.  Additional copies will be available to the parties for a cost as permitted by Section 2.04.  Fees received beyond the cost of reproduction are allocated to the clerk’s technology fund for use in paying for the system and additional technology needs of the court. 

While several courts in Knox County have audio recording equipment, no others have simultaneous video recording.  This new equipment, which has been installed and is now in use, will blaze an efficient trail of reference for Judge McMillan, especially when he needs to re-visit cases.

“For those cases taken under advisement, I will have the ability to go back and review testimony, if needed.  This ability will also come in handy for cases that extend for multiple days.  Hopefully, it will reduce repetitive and/or cumulative testimony,” Judge McMillan said.

Section 3 of Rule 26 addresses the court clerk’s obligations in the event of an appeal.  While recording court proceedings under Rule 26 places the obligation of preparing the official record of all proceedings (or the designated portion(s) of proceedings) on the court clerk, the use of electronic recordings is anticipated to speed up that process because the clerk will not be relying on third parties (attorneys and/or court reporters) to prepare the transcript as is the case currently. 

“I am thrilled that Knox County is able to provide this technology,” said Mike Hammond, Criminal, General Sessions and Fourth Circuit Court Clerk. “I appreciate Judge McMillan’s leadership in working with the state Supreme Court for approval. There is no question this will enhance our court and prove beneficial to the attorneys and the public.”

The system proposed for the Fourth Circuit Court is similar to the system approved for and utilized by Judge Thomas White Brothers in the 20th Judicial District (Davidson County).  Judge Brothers has been serving Davidson County since 1989 and has been using the technology for several years.

“It has reduced the cost of courtroom litigation dramatically,” Judge Tom Brothers said. “It also serves to provide open access to the courts for all individuals, regardless of their financial means since the DVD record is only $50 per day. It has helped me since I can review any proceedings that have been before me.”

While other Davidson County courts have video equipment in their courtrooms, Judge Brothers is the only Rule 26 official record. “I truly believe that the system has a 100 percent approval rating at the trial level,” Judge Brothers said. “The only problem is when a matter is on appeal, sometimes appellate judges prefer a written record as opposed to watching the video. But, because less than 5 percent of civil cases are appealed and anyone can prepare a transcript from the DVD record, I think that is not a major obstacle.”

Judge McMillan