On Wednesday, April 22, over 500 judges from around the world tuned into a National Judicial College webcast advising rural court judges on how to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local judge, Gregory D. Smith was one of three presenters. Smith has served as the municipal judge for Pleasant View, Tennessee since 1997, as well as serving on Native American tribal appellate courts in five different states (AZ, CA, MI, OK, and WI). Smith is also the Chief Judge of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Court of Indian Appeals (based in Miami, Oklahoma).
The other webcast presenters were the Honorable Neil Harris, a Mississippi Chancellor, and the Honorable Karen Mitchell, a District Judge from New Mexico. Topics discussed during this presentation were: A} how to hold court remotely via computers or telephone; B} court security in remote locations; and C} a judge's ethical duty during the pandemic. Smith presented the judicial ethics portion of the webcast.
The webcast included judges from all across the United States, from Maine. to Alaska, to Hawaii. International judges tuned in from Israel, Pakistan, the Ukraine, Jamaica, Guam, Spain, the Marianna Islands, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Native American tribal courts from multiple regions throughout North America were included, such as the Honorable Carrie Garrow, Chief Judge for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Court, that enjoys a tribal reservation overlapping the U.S./Canadian border. Chief Judge Garrow is also a law professor for the Syracuse University School of Law.
The National Judicial College (NJC) was first established in 1963 and is a part of the University of Nevada-Reno. The NJC is considered the premiere judicial training provider in the United States for state and tribal judges. The NJC trains both in-person and online. For this particular presentation, the NJC made an exception to their 50+ year rule that only judges or court staff can access the training. As a courtesy to Judge Smith, attorneys in Montgomery, Robertson and Cheatham Counties of Tennessee were allowed to join the training because of the unique situation caused by the pandemic interfering with local attorneys' ability to seek mandatory continuing legal education. Over twenty-five local attorneys benefited from this 1.5 hour presentation.
One interesting aspect of Mr. Smith's presentation was that he could offer insight into how courts address the pandemic as an attorney, as a municipal court trial judge, and as the Chief Justice of a Supreme Court. In Clarksville, Mr. Smith practices law in a time of social distancing. In Pleasant View, Judge Smith must juggle a traffic docket where no more that ten people can be in a courtroom at one time. As Chief Justice of the Pawnee Nation Supreme Court in Oklahoma, Smith had to create an administrative order that allows Due Process and due care to merge into a single courtroom that promises justice and health safety are both protected.
Smith says, "Hopefully all Americans will return to their normal routines and the Coronavirus will join Polio in the history books as a disease of yesteryear."