Chief Justice issues emergency order regarding COVID-19

Published 9:53 am Monday, August 9, 2021

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph issued an emergency order on Thursday, Aug. 5, implementing COVID-19 safeguards in all courts in the state.

The emergency order gives individual judges discretion to adopt safety measures. Judges have discretion to postpone jury trials scheduled through Sept. 10.

The order calls for use of teleconferencing, videoconferencing and electronic filing to limit in-person contact in courts. The order allows felony plea hearings, felony sentencing hearings and probation violation hearings to be conducted remotely by way of interactive audiovisual equipment.

Chief Justice Randolph in Emergency Administrative Order 21 said, “If not otherwise prohibited, all courts are urged to limit in-person, courtroom contact as much as possible by utilizing available technologies, including electronic filing, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing.”

The order said, “Any in-person proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press, and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge.”

Chief Justice Randolph said that all courts have a constitutional and statutory responsibility to remain open. The order sets out a list of more than a dozen kinds of proceedings which must be conducted in person if remote technology is unavailable or not feasible.

Judges are strongly encouraged to refer to guidance issued by the Mississippi State Department of Health for preventing spread of COVID-19, including recommendations for social distancing, capacity limitations on gatherings and personal protective measures including face coverings.

Chief Justice Randolph said the worsening pandemic requires changes to safeguard the public. He said, “Unfortunately, circumstances have precipitously deteriorated, especially with respect to the Delta variant of COVID-19. On today’s date, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers reported to the Court that the Delta variant is much more contagious and spreading three times faster than other strains. As of August 2, 2021, there were 1,574 new COVID-19 confirmed infections in Mississippi. Two days later, on August 4, 2021, the number of new confirmed infections had more than doubled to 3,164. These new cases are dominated by the Delta variant and a growing number of infections are found in individuals aged 40 or younger. COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ICU occupancy are rapidly rising to levels seen during the worst days of the pandemic in Mississippi, with multiple hospitals throughout the state at maximum capacity. Unvaccinated Mississippians account for the overwhelming majority of confirmed infections, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths. Dr. Byers further stated that between June 1 and August 1, 2021, unvaccinated individuals accounted for 97% of COVID-19 cases, 89% of hospitalizations, and 82% of deaths. The latest guidance from the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) continues to encourage eligible individuals to ‘get a COVID-l9 vaccination’ and recommends ‘wearing a mask in all indoor public settings, even if you are vaccinated.’ Similarly, ‘to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others,’ federal health authorities now recommend ‘wearing a mask indoors in public if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission.’ According to Dr. Byers, every county in Mississippi presently constitutes ‘an area of substantial or high transmission.’”

            A copy of the Aug. 5 order is at this link: https://courts.ms.gov/appellatecourts/docket/sendPDF.php?f=700_553107.pdf&c=92966&a=N&s=2.