JACKSON - The ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus and recommendations to limit the size of gatherings has forced the Mississippi court system to enact a series of new guidelines.

As Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, Michael Randolph is authorized to make any changes deemed necessary to protect the health and safety of the citizens of the state. In the past week, Randolph has issued six emergency administrative orders.

The most recent orders cover everything from public defenders to testifying remotely by video to who can be kept away from the courthouse.

On Wednesday, he temporarily suspended the rule requiring defense counsel to be physically present with the defendant during all proceedings. Attorney General Lynn Fitch agreed the rule would provide flexibility and help minimize the number of people held in jails until their court appearance.

Friday afternoon, Randolph issued a series of orders designed to reduce court proceedings and gatherings closer to the Centers for Disease Control recommendation of no more than 10 people.

Courts are urged to limit in-person contact by using electronic filing, teleconferencing and video-conferencing. He decreed that all former rules and procedures prohibiting the use of electronic means to testify are suspended until further order.

In situations where video-conferencing is not available, normal in-person proceedings can continue in jury trials already in progress, as well as hearings involving child custody, youth court, mental health orders and obtaining arrest and search warrants.

"Each judge is authorized to determine the manner in which necessary in-person proceedings are to be conducted," Randolph said.

In addition, Randolph rules that anyone who has visited China, Iran, South Korea or any European country, or has been on a cruise ship within the last two weeks should be banned from the courts. Anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, has been in contact with anyone infected or is displaying symptoms should also be turned away.

william.moore@journalinc.com

Twitter:@WilliamMoore_DJ

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