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Tennessee Court Records

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How Does The Tennessee Court of Appeals Work?

The Tennessee Court of Appeals is one of three appellate courts in Tennessee. Established in 1925, this court hears only civil appeals from lower trial courts, state boards, and commissions. The Court of Appeals does not hear criminal appeals—this is the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeal jurisdiction.

The judges who preside over appeals in this court grant appellate relief based on the comprehensive study and interpretation of how state laws, the federal constitution, legislative acts, administrative rules, and regulations apply to a case. The appellate court also considers the existing body of common law and treaties in granting appellate relief to petitioners.

A significant difference between how the appellate court operates and the lower trial courts is that the Tennessee Court of Appeals only uses legal resources to determine an error in the judgment of the lower trial court. Unlike the trial courts, the Court of Appeals does not embark on a fact-finding proceeding to determine guilt or establish the facts of the case. Instead, the Court of Appeals examines the validity of the lower court’s verdict and reverses the original judgment if necessary.

Generally, most civil appeals will end here unless the petitioner appeals the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the apex court with final authority in legal matters that arise within the state’s jurisdiction. Otherwise, a new legislative act and constitutional amendment are necessary to overturn the Court of Appeals’ ruling. Apart from these, the Court of Appeals may issue an opinion overruling itself.

According to judicial statistics, the Tennessee Court of Appeals receives an average of 780 appeals annually. Generally, cases come up to the Court of Appeals when a litigant exercises his/her appeal as of right (Rule 3).. An appeal as of right means litigants does not need the permission of the trial or appellate court as a prerequisite to initiating an appeal. However, there are statutory limitations. Meanwhile, a typical appeal begins within thirty (30) days of the verdict. Thereafter, the length of time until the court issues a decision varies with the complexity of the case and outstanding caseload. Most appeals in Tennessee take several months.

Twelve judges who sit in panels of threes run or handle appeals in the Tennessee Court of Appeals. Each judge serves an eight-year term following appointment by the governor and joint House/Senate confirmation. A peer voting system selects one of these judges to serve as chief judge for a twelve-month term.

Unlike the lower trial courts, which select candidates by district, candidates for a vacant slot in the Court of Appeals are statewide and non-partisan. And per Tennessee code and state constitution, a judgeship candidate must be at least thirty (30) years old, authorized to practice law in Tennessee, resided in the state for at least five years, and lived in a district for one (1) year (Tenn. Const. Art. VI, § 4; Tenn. Code Ann. § 17–5–102)

Following an appointment and confirmation, the judge shall serve the full eight-year term, and reappointment is based on a “retain-replace” ballot system after the term expires. In this ballot system, the Board of Judicial Conduct (BJC) shall evaluate a judge and publish the results in newspapers across the state. Then, eligible voters in the state shall decide whether the judges stay or leave.

If a judge leaves office before the expiration of his/her tenure, the governor shall appoint a suitable and eligible replacement. The candidate, however, is also subject to a joint House/Senate confirmation. If confirmed, the interim judge serves the remainder of the unexpired term and is eligible for election.

Tennessee does not limit the number of terms a justice may serve, and neither does state laws mandate retirement for able judges. However, the Board of Judicial Conduct may remove a serving judge following an investigation (Tenn. Code Ann. § 17–5–301). Generally, these include:

Removal: Following a recommendation by the court or the Board of Judicial Authority, the legislature shall convene for a General Assembly where two-thirds of each house is necessary to remove a judge. Removal proceedings typically following a disciplinary action or investigation into incapacitation Tenn. Code Ann. § 17–5–302. The aggrieved judge may, however, appeal the removal to the Supreme Court.

Impeachment and Conviction: Here, an impeachment action against a serving judge must garner a two-thirds vote of the house of representatives. After that, conviction by a two-thirds vote of the Senate is necessary.

Every month, the Tennessee Court of Appeals holds sessions at Jackson, Knoxville, and Nashville. Oral arguments proceedings are typically open to the public on a first-come-first-in basis unless the proceedings are confidential.

Jackson Sitting Location

6 Highway 45 By-Pass

Western Division Supreme Court Building

P. O. Box 909

Jackson, TN 38302–0909

Phone: (731) 423–5840

Fax: (731) 423–6453

Knoxville Sitting Location

505 Main Street, Suite 200

Eastern Division Supreme Court Building

P. O. Box 444

Knoxville, TN 37901

Phone: (865) 594–6700

Fax: (865) 594–6497

NashvilleSitting Location

Middle Division Supreme Court Building

401 7th Avenue North

Nashville, TN 37219–1407

Phone: (615) 741–2681

Fax: (615) 532–8757

The public may track active dockets of the Tennessee Court of Appeals via the online schedule of oral arguments. Audio recordings of the oral arguments are also available on the docket for up to twenty-one days after the hearing. Likewise, judges’ opinions are available for public perusal.

Meanwhile, persons interested in court transcripts, briefs, and associated case records must contact the Appellate Court Clerk’s Office in the division where the hearing occurred.

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