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Jury trials to return to area, will be conducted at Natchez City Auditorium

NATCHEZ — Adams County Circuit Court jury trials will soon be back in session for the first time since March.

Adams County Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell said jury trials would be moved to the Natchez City Auditorium beginning the third week of August to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines as well as the orders from the Supreme Court of Mississippi.

“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 the attending audience to socially distance themselves where the Circuit Courtroom at the Adams County Courthouse is too small to allow that.

“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.

In compliance with other CDC and Mississippi Supreme Court orders, Blackwell said all prospective jurors would receive a list of health questions with their jury summons and should call if they’ve experienced any of the conditions listed.

Furthermore, Blackwell said exemptions could be granted to individuals older than 60 or those experiencing any other illness or hardship.

“Recently, the Supreme Court extended the juror age exemption to 60 years of age,” Blackwell said. “The law provides that if you’re 65 or older, you can be exempt from jury duty automatically without any excuses, but because 84% of all the deaths in Mississippi have been person 60 or older, the Supreme Court has enlarged that exemption requirement.”

Blackwell said everyone in the city auditorium would also be required to wear facial coverings and maintain social distancing.

“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. As sixth district circuit court judges, both serve Adams, Amite, Franklin and Wilkinson countries.

Blackwell said she was finishing up an Adams County court session just as the pandemic hit. Therefore, none of her Adams County trials were delayed.

However, Sanders wasn’t able to summon Adams County jurors during her term beginning in May because of the restrictions brought about by the pandemic.

“The Supreme Court has allowed us to start calling back jurors in June, and in May, we have been able to call jurors in counties with two or fewer (COVID-19) deaths. We’re like anyone else, just taking it day by day and doing the best we can,” Blackwell said.