Area court proceedings affected by COVID-19 guidelines

NORTHEAST, Miss. (WCBI) – COVID numbers jump again Tuesday. More than 1,300 Mississippians get positive results. The coronavirus has disrupted lives.

In fact, so many things have changed over the past few months, that being summoned to serve on a jury can almost feel normal, but courtrooms will be far from normal this year.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has issued 14 new orders informing area courts of the proper protocol regarding COVID-19.

When selecting a jury, circuit clerks have to call in hundreds of residents to the courthouse– making it hard to socially distance.

That’s why some counties are looking to move their courtroom business to nearby community centers.

The only problem is– not every county has one.

The Lowndes County Circuit Clerk’s office is gearing up for jury selection this August.

At the last Board of Supervisors meeting, Circuit Clerk Teresa Barksdale proposed moving the jury selection process to the Trotter Center in downtown Columbus.

That proposal was approved.

“We will be using the Trotter for the August term of court. We will meet there on August the 18th. August the 17th is our first day of court. We just feel that that’d be safer for our jurors as well as court personnel. We can spread people out with a greater distance. More so than the courtroom,” said Barksdale.

Barksdale said she got the idea from another county.

“My fellow clerk, in Alcorn County, she had a jury, and she used one of the centers up there. There was an arena up there she used, and she said it worked very good. Everybody felt comfortable. She had a good number of jurors to show up. So, that’s our main concern, to make everyone feel safe,” said Barksdale.

Not every county has an arena.

In fact, not every county has a community center.

“We do not have a large civic center or a large community center,” said Sherry Henderson.

Henderson is the Circuit Clerk for Webster County.

Webster’s court term was in June.

Henderson said their selection process was a little different.

“We separated them into three groups, and we had each of those groups come in at thirty-minute intervals. At that time, the judge went through each of the stages of the questioning three times, and at that point, we picked a grand jury,” said Henderson.

Luckily, no court proceedings ended up going to trial.

Henderson said socially distancing in a courtroom would have been an even bigger challenge.

“We could use the courtroom if we did not allow an audience in… to spread the Jurors out,” said Henderson.

The Mississippi Supreme Court sends down their recommendations but area judges have the final say.

For example, In Oktibbeha County, courtroom officials are following CDC guidelines; however, they chose not to relocate their jury pooling.

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