Knox County Circuit Court Takes road trip
Metal detectors guarded by armed and uniformed Knox County deputies greeted Gennie Gieselmann when she walked into UT's College of Law on Thursday.
"Normally things are a lot quieter. Less commotion I guess," Gieselmann says.
But the second year law student's classrooms became courtrooms as Knox County's Fourth Circuit Court left the downtown City County building, and heard its entire docket on campus. She says the experience was enlightening.
"This to me is a new experience and definitely an eye opener," she says.
Judge Bill Swann says that's the idea, and an especially timely one, given that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
"These young lawyers, when they go out into practice, are going to meet lots of families," explains Swann. "They're going to be coming into their offices, and over perhaps half of the cases will have domestic violence type issues in them. The issues may stay hidden unless lawyers know the right questions to ask, the right things to do."
Swann remembers his own law school experience, so he knows busy future lawyers like Gennie have little extra time to visit off-campus courtrooms. So instead of inviting them to come to the courthouse to listen and learn, he took his courtroom to the students, complete with cops, clerks and a big crowd.
"The students can just walk in and they can see court going on," Swann says. "We're making it user-friendly."
But taking the show on the road wasn't an easy process.
"This is hard on everybody but the judge," Swann admits.
Deputies had to set up a portable metal detector at the entrance to a large rotunda on the college's main building's first floor. Officers had to patrol every entrance.
The cases Swann hears -- divorces, orders of protection, family feuds -- usually bring together people who aren't too happy to see each other, and at the City County Building, Thursdays are often pretty rowdy. Swann commended the Sheriff's Department's willingness to be flexible, and mobile.
"There's always a concern for security. Bad things can happen anywhere in Knoxville, anywhere in the United States," says Swann. "We've done a lot here to make sure it doesn't happen, but it could."
The Knox County Circuit Court Clerk had to take files that usually never leave the office to the College of Law.
"We're working without a printer," says Martha Phillips. "The things we take for granted, we're doing without today, but so far we've made it fine. I'll have to admit, we'd rather be at the office if we had a choice."
A special master, Judge Camellia Saunders, heard cases in a classroom across from Swann.
"I've been to the College of Law to go here, never to hold court here, so this is definitely an experience," Saunders says with a laugh. "But to bring this to the law students helps them to see there is a need for family practice lawyers, that it's not just about personal injury and the big bucks, that it's about helping people who really need help."
"The front of this (law school) building says 'Assistance and Counsel for all'," Saunders points out.
Thursday's court docket had 154 cases on it; 154 cases that offered many different lessons in life and law to the students who observed.
"A lot of times, you wonder what brought people to court," Gieselmann says. "It's interesting to see how they react to the events in their lives and how the court handles certain situations between different people. I am amazed at the number of people here."