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Trial Courts


The state trial courts were divided into 31 judicial districts in 1984. T.C.A. § 16-2-506. Circuit and chancery courts exist within each district, and some districts have separate criminal courts.  Each judicial district selects a presiding judge who assigns cases to reduce delays, distributes the workload equitably, and promotes the orderly and efficient administration of justice in the district. T.C.A. § 16-2-509.  The judges of each district must promulgate uniform rules of practice for that district. T.C.A.§ 16-2-511.  The administrative director of the courts maintains a list of the local rules. T.C.A. § 16-2-511.  

The 1984 redistricting bill abolished the "terms of court." The minutes of all courts remain open continuously. T.C.A. § 16-2-510. Court is held within each judicial district at times set by the judges of that district and within each county in the district as needed to dispose of the court's business. T.C.A. § 16-2-510.

Circuit and chancery court judges are elected for an eight-year term by the voters of the district or circuit to which they are assigned. Tenn. Const., art. VI, § 4. A judge must be 30 years old, a Tennessee resident for five years, a resident of the circuit or district for one year (Tenn. Const., art. VI, § 4), licensed to practice law in Tennessee, and eligible under the general standards to hold public office. T.C.A. §§ 17-1-106, 8-18-101.

To facilitate the handling of cases, any judge or chancellor may exercise by interchange, appointment, or designation the jurisdiction of any trial court other than that to which he was elected or appointed.  T.C.A. § 16-2-502.  Legislation passed in 1997 provided that any judge sitting by interchange has the same immunity as the judge he or she is replacing and that the state or county must provide the same defense, if necessary, for the substituting judge. T.C.A. § 16-1-114.

The Tennessee Constitution provides in Article VI, Section 13 that chancellors appoint the clerk and master for a six-year term and that clerks of other inferior courts are elected for a four-year term. Clerks of court act as the principal administrative aides to the courts. Additional information about Clerks of Court can be found under County Offices.