MSC issues order keeping lower courts open, safe

Published 11:44 am Friday, August 6, 2021

On Thursday, August 5, the Mississippi Supreme Court issued an executive administrative order stating  allowing lower court judges to postpone trials and even go virtual.

The MSC issued based on the uptick in cases, the rapid spread of the Delta variant and information provided by Paul Byers, M.D., of the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Byers reported to the MSC that unvaccinated individuals accounted for 97% of COVID-19 cases, 89% of hospitalizations and 82% of deaths in Mississippi from June 1 to August 1, 2021.

The MSDH reported 2,094 more cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi, 8 deaths, and 152 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities as of August 5. Within those numbers, Lafayette County reports 18 new cases of COVID-19 and one death.

According to the order, all local and state courts — municipal, justice, county, chancery, circuit and appellate courts — will remain open but respective dockets will be under an individual judges’ control.

Courts are required to follow protocols reducing the spread of COVID-19, which includes social distancing, personal protective measures and capacity limitations.

The MSC urges all courts to limit in-person, courtroom contact as much as possible by using their available technology allowing courts to use teleconferencing, videoconferencing and electronic filing in certain situations.

Before the order, courts were not permitted to use audiovisual equipment for trials, probation hearings, felony pleas or sentencing but this rule has been temporarily suspended.

All lower courts can continue in-person proceedings if the technology is unavailable and individual judges are allowed to decide how in-person proceedings will be conducted. This discretion does not allow judges to prohibit face coverings unless they impede accuracy, integrity or safety of the proceedings.

In-person proceedings are limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press and other necessary persons, which will be determined by the trial judge.

Judges are also allowed postpone trials and judges over drug-intervention courts can modify the scheduling of drug testing and home-supervision visits up through September 10, 2021.

For more information on the Mississippi Supreme Court’s recent emergency administrative order, visit courts.ms.gov/news/news.php.