Mississippi Chief Justice issues emergency order as COVID numbers rise

Published 9:30 am Friday, September 3, 2021

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph issued an emergency order on Thursday, Sept. 2, extending the time for COVID-19 safeguards in all courts. Emergency Administrative Order 22  gives individual judges discretion to postpone jury trials scheduled through Oct. 8.

The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 3,352 more cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi, 33 deaths, and 153 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities as of September 2. There are a total of 446,863 cases, 8,540 deaths and 1,174,504 persons have been fully vaccinated.

Lafayette County has 70 new COVID cases. There have been no LTC facility outbreaks or new deaths. The county has a total of 7,644 cases, 130 deaths and 191 LTC facility outbreaks.

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In a previous order entered on Aug. 5, the Chief Justice gave trial judges discretion to postpone jury trials scheduled through Sept. 10.

The Chief Justice said in the order issued Thursday, “Because there has been no discernible reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases reported daily by the  Mississippi Department of Health since Emergency Administrative Order-21 was filed, in  my capacity as chief administrative officer of all courts in the state, I find that Emergency Administrative Order 21 should be extended.”

Circuit Court Judge Kelly Luther said Randolph had no other choice but to extend the order. The court system cannot completely shut down and the rights of the defendant and the public have to be protected.

“We’ve already been in a slow down going on two and, at some point, we have to use our discretion,” said Luther. “We can’t keep people in jail indefinitely without a trial.”

Recently, the MSC gave Union County the permission to use a jury in a court trial.

The order issued on Thursday leaves in effect other safety provisions reimplemented a month ago, including using teleconferencing, videoconferencing and electronic filing to limit in-person contact in courts, and allowing felony plea hearings, felony sentencing hearings and probation violation hearings to be conducted remotely by way of interactive audiovisual equipment.

Much of the courts’ business such as motion hearings can be conducted virtually, according to Luther.

Luther has made the personal decision not to have any civil trials for the foreseeable future.

“The risk is just not worth it,” he said. “However, there are certain criminal trials we cannot put off indefinitely, so we will use as much caution as we can and move forward.”

A copy of the Sept. 2 order is at this link: https://courts.ms.gov/appellatecourts/docket/sendPDF.php?f=700_556457.pdf&c=92966&a=N&s=2.