NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — Jury trials in southwest Mississippi are set to return later this month for the first time since March.
Adams County Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell said they will be moved to the Natchez City Auditorium starting the third week of August.
“What we have to do is balance the public health risk with our constitutional and statutory duty to remain open and accessible,” Blackwell said. “The City of Natchez has graciously offered the city auditorium for us to use, and the Natchez Convention Center donated the tables and the setups and are working with us. The (Adams County) Sheriff’s department has bent over backward to put our security policy in place, and everyone has just come together.”
Blackwell said the change of setting would allow ample room for jurors, courtroom staff and spectators to socially distance, but the circuit courtroom at the Adams County Courthouse is too small to allow that, The Natchez Democrat reported.
“The city auditorium holds a little over 1,400 people, and we normally don’t have anywhere near 200 show up for jury duty, so we should have plenty of room to socially distance there,” she said.
Blackwell said everyone in the city auditorium would also be required to wear face coverings.
“We will try to limit our in-person contact with people and try to limit the number of people who are summoned for jury duty,” she said.
Blackwell alternates court sessions with Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders. Both judges serve Adams, Amite, Franklin and Wilkinson countries.
Blackwell said she was finishing an Adams County court session just as the pandemic hit, so none of her trials in the county were delayed.
However, Sanders wasn’t able to summon Adams County jurors during her term beginning in May because of pandemic restrictions.
“The Supreme Court has allowed us to start calling back jurors in June, and ... we have been able to call jurors in counties with two or fewer (COVID-19) deaths," Blackwell said. “We’re like anyone else, just taking it day by day and doing the best we can.”