Social distancing and even virtual platforms are the new norm when it comes to local court services.
County and municipal courts have implemented several new safety measures and enhanced technology to better serve both the public and court employees. And, so far, it’s working.
“The process is certainly different,” said Robert Coleman, Yazoo County circuit clerk. “But we are still continuing our normal schedules. We just have to be more limited in what we usually do.”
Coleman said the county court recently held its first jury trial during the COVID pandemic. It was an imminent domain, not criminal, case.
“Jury selection was the first thing we had to do differently,” he said. “Normally, everyone comes in the courtroom for questioning and selection. But due to COVID, we are limiting that procedure. Everyone is seated both downstairs and upstairs in the balcony, six feet apart.”
Once the jury is selected, they are seated on the left side of the courtroom, six feet apart.
“We can’t utilize the jury box so we had to make adjustments,” Coleman said. “We have also had to limit the number of spectators we allow in the courtroom. No one from the public came to our imminent domain trial. But I suspect that will change when we have a criminal trial.”
Coleman said the county courts have not used any virtual or online system yet. But Mary Johnson, municipal court clerk, said the city court system has been using digital avenues with many of their cases.
“Many have stated that they prefer video conferencing to the traditional methods of handling court matters,” Johnson said. “While some certainly miss in-person contact, everyone understands the need for the safety measures implemented.”
Both courts require masks, social distancing and health screenings. And Johnson added that the video conferencing platform has been instrumental during the pandemic. Although she admits it was challenging at first to transition to alternative methods.
“The court has found that video conferencing allows the court to maintain its regular schedule without delay and provides for the safety of all,” Johnson said. “The court is operating efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of citizens using technology.”
Although COVID is shifting how many operations continue efficiently, the local court system has adapted well.
“Safety of the public, employees, and staff is a priority while making sure the court can remain open to serve the public,” Johnson said.